Recently, the Australian Labor government announced an emissions trading scheme. The validity of the scheme has been debated since, but perhaps of more interest has been the response by the Australian populace. See, the government had “promised” at the last election that they wouldn’t bring in an emissions tax, because most Australians don’t want one. Our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has had to fend off the charge of “backflipping”, including some radio personalities calling her “Juliar” in response.
Some people have been rather nonchalant about the whole thing, cynically resigned to the fact that the last election was very tightly contested (we were inches from a hung parliament), and so “of course” both sides would lie a little in their campaign promises – it’s what politicians do. But another group of people are very angry, because of a sense of broken trust.
What I find significant is the sense of credibility we assign to politicians who tell us things we don’t want to hear. On one hand, we want the good news, even if it’s a lie (elections across the world are evidence of this). But on the other hand, we really want the bad news, if it’s a necessary truth. Think of Al Gore as an example: he has had much more success in his campaign about Global Warming (the emissions trading scheme is evidence of that!), precisely because his movie was called An Inconvenient Truth – since he told us an inconvenient but potentially important message, we more naturally give his message credibility.
All this points to a simple observation – importance, unpopularity and credibility often go together. If somebody has the guts to tell us something that we don’t like to hear, but that is really important, then we will respect their message more, at least in the long term. In the short term, their unpopular claim is at serious risk of us rejection– but they do have more credibility than the person just telling us what we want to hear.
One of the things that I find curious about people’s responses to Jesus and the gospel, is how often it comes down to whether they like everything He says. Inevitably, they find there are some things that Jesus says that they definitely do not like. At times, during His preaching, Jesus seems to have specifically gone out of His way to say unpopular things – if Jesus was a politician, He needed to get a much better speech writer! For example,
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. (Matthew 5:39-41 TNIV)
Personally, there are plenty of things that Jesus says, and indeed that the Bible says, that I do not like – if I had my way, He wouldn’t have said them. The thing is, it’s precisely because He does say unpopular things, that I believe Him. If He only told me the things I wanted to hear, that might be nice for a while, but it would inevitably reek of “sugar-coating”. I don’t want a convenient Jesus, I want a credible one. I choose to follow Christ because He is honest, brutally honest. That makes Him credible – that rarest of jewels: trustworthy.
Of course, the most unpopular thing Jesus says is actually what makes this whole article almost irrelevant… but I’ll save that for my next article.