Contempt: The Covenant-Breaker


In my last post, I talked about developing a covenant mentality towards all, one where we more and more reflect the nature of a God who has the unique capacity to maintain actual covenant with an unlimited number of beings.

But it's difficult to get a handle on what a covenant mentality really looks like in practice. If it's not going to be a vague, general sense of well-wishing for others - I ain't got nothin' against nobody - we have to put a little more definition to it.

In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell relays the story of how John Gottman developed the ability to predict to 90% accuracy whether a marriage would last by observing just 15 minutes of conversation between a husband and wife. After countless hours of painstaking data-gathering and analysis, Gottman...

has found that he can find out much of what he needs to know just by focusing on what he calls the Four Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. In fact, there is one emotion that he considers the most important of all: contempt.
"You would think that criticism would be the worst," Gottman says, "because criticism is a global condemnation of a person's character. Yet contempt is qualitatively different from criticism. With criticism I might say to my wife, 'You never listen, you are really selfish and insensitive.' Well, she's going to respond defensively to that. That's not very good for our problem solving and interaction. But if I speak from a superior plane, that's far more damaging, and contempt is any statement made from a higher level... It's trying to put that person on a lower plane than you. It's hierarchical."

Contempt, it turns out, is the ultimate covenant-breaker. It is the insurmountable obstacle because in contempt, one person makes a decision up front that the other is incapable of rising to their own plane. Contempt shuts down dialogue before it has a chance to begin.   

To summarize it most succinctly, contempt is divorce in the heart before it is divorce in fact. The starting point of cultivating a covenant mentality with all, then, is to guard our hearts against contempt.

I don't think that our world makes this easy. One need look little further than the ways of politics to see the destructive nature of contempt in full force. Political campaigns are fueled by contempt. It is not enough that two candidates merely state that they disagree with each other's ideas. No, one's opponent must be branded as the very essence of evil, the one thing that most threatens to destroy everything that America stands for. With that foundation laid, any possible future cooperation is ruled out before it can even begin.

But sometimes contempt isn't even as brazen as that. Sometimes it isn't expressed in anger, but in indifference. Anywhere that we have simply given up on someone, you will likely find contempt lingering under the surface. This can apply to individuals, or it can apply to industries and institutions - the movie industry, entertainment, media, business, education, or (help me, Lord!) politics. None of these is beyond the Lord's redemptive reach, and none of these is without its own seminal goodness for those who have eyes to see and a heart to nurture it.

"You will never have any authority over what you do not love."
Shawn Bolz, Translating God

We who take the name of Jesus are called to be matchmakers. We are called to facilitate a meeting between people and Jesus that will result in a covenant relationship between them. We delude ourselves if we believe that we can harbor covenant-breaking contempt in our hearts and fulfill this role. Our disposition must reflect the covenant-making heart of God that never gives up, never withdraws. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)