Unpopular Virtue

“Freedom is to be like thee, face and heart; to know it, Lord, I must be as thou art.” ~ George MacDonald


Vice may be more widely celebrated than virtue. To be free, we’ve come to believe, is to abandon restraint and quiet character, to embrace what is brash and rude, selfish and crude.

“I don’t care what you say, you aren’t the boss of me,” is our new, yet painfully unoriginal, national motto.

And, what was once considered virtue is now held up as vice:

  • Patience  has become a sign of weakness–we demand swift retribution and instant results.
  • Chastity, the ability to restrain or deny sexual appetite, has become a condition to be snickered at, not admired.
  • Charity, the determined desire for the good of all humankind, falters in tribalistic preference–we love and are concerned only for our own.
  • Humility seems pathetic and cowardly, ill-suited to moral outrage and image management.

Thomas Merton wrote half a century ago of the political, religious and relational vices we embrace today. He describes one characteristic of “the devil’s moral theology” as…

“…the exaggeration of all distinctions between this and that, good and evil, right and wrong. These distinctions become irreducible divisions. No longer is there any sense that we might perhaps all be more or less at fault, and that we might be expected to take upon our own shoulders the wrongs of others by forgiveness, acceptance, patient understanding and love, and thus help one another find the truth. On the contrary…the important thing is to be absolutely right and to prove that everybody else is absolutely wrong.” *

Sound familiar? We have become whiny prisoners of our own shadow self that demands the world bow to our whims.

An unpopular virtue

Only one virtue, unpopular though it may be, will set you free. Only one virtue is a sure sign a person is right with God. What do we call it?


What feels like death, allows us to finally live, as we allow the owner of the blueprints roll up his sleeves, and remodel us into his image. What is that image?

“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all he has made” (Psalm 145:8-9).

You will know you are truly free when you can honestly say, “Every day, in my thoughts, words and deeds,  I am becoming more gracious, more merciful, less prone to anger, and better known for my faithful, un-self-conscious acts of love for all who cross my path. A new desire grows, the longing to bestow goodness on everyone, without distinction, empowered by God’s deep compassion and concern for every living thing.” **

How are you doing, in becoming the real you? You won’t be transformed by your own wishful thinking. Instead, surrender everything–the good, bad, and the ugly of your willful yet wondrous self–and declare to Jesus, who is virtue personified, “I care only what you say, you are the boss of me.”

By this you will change the world.

Are you taking the time to listen to the only voice that matters?


*Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, (New York: New Directions Books, 1961), 96.

** See also Galatians 5:22-23.

Photograph by Melanie Hunt

16 thoughts on “Unpopular Virtue

  1. Mary Evans

    Proverbs 25:11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver.

    This is nourishment to my soul.

  2. Deborah Windes

    I’ve been reading the Sermon on the Mount, and have been greatly challenged by the character or virtues that God calls blessed. It is all about surrender, humility, and those things that I am not—but want to be!

    1. Janet Hanson Post author

      I agree, and am troubled by the neglect of what is at the very heart of faith in Jesus. We’ve propositioned and platituded God out of existence, perhaps to avoid having to change.

  3. Jeff Reed

    Thank you, Janet for incisive diagnosis and radical remedy!

    Have you read a little gem of a book called The Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards first out in 1980. It’s subtitle is “A Study in Brokenness” and unveils a look at surrender in a powerful and compelling way through a poetic retelling of the stories of Saul, David, and Absalom. I just read it yesterday, and reading your blog today I am having one of those cool moments of confluence!

  4. Lin Wilder

    Hi Janet,

    Surrender. Yes, amen. An easy word to say but such work to act out between the dishes and the laundry and yes, the writing. Lovely post. Thank you for writing it.

  5. Susan Basham

    Janet — this is as usual, convicting as I contemplate my own lack of patience and even intolerance (especially this week!) When I mentioned to a therapist friend my penchant for not tolerating injustices, she said “Are you sure this isn’t just a defense mechanism?” Gulp. Food for thought — and now this. Keep blogging. Maybe some of it will get it right eventually!

  6. Gloria Davidson

    Thank you for writing this Janet… it deeply ministered to my heart this morning. I am printing this verse for my desk at work — and I will never read it the same again. Very powerful and as always, ever so clear… Love you my friend. PS: Giants game –>boys, painting in Invernesss —> girls. Come soon.

  7. Sheila

    This is so timely. I am noticing I have to ask God often these days to help me show love and mercy to those whose ideas, thoughts, etc. are not aligned with mine. Showing grace, mercy and love in a society that is becoming more and more ‘my way, or the highway’ is often difficult and not my first reaction very often. This made me pause and think.
    Thanks for another insightful writing Janet.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *