I closed yesterday’s post (which should be read first for this one to have the right context) lamenting the tone and direction of so much of the public conversation about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman:
You don’t have to believe what Jesus said [Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God] or even believe Jesus is real to look at all of that and wish for something better. That instinct transcends race, creed, and all of our other differences. Unless your soul has been completely seared by so much heat and so little light, some elemental pulse of humanity in you has to know we weren’t made for this.
And yet I believe that realization creates a particular responsibility for those who do follow Jesus. If we claim to believe what Jesus said — that those who make peace will be called God’s children — it’s time to put up or shut up. The world around us is sinking into a canyon of hatred and anger and division, and we’re too busy proving that the chasm isn’t our fault to climb in and help. Either oblivious or indifferent to the fact that many of these fights aren’t even about right and wrong anymore because they have devolved into the kind of cyclical verbal violence that eviscerates God’s image-bearers and mocks the way He made people to relate to one another, we continue to use our precious words and energy to play around in the breach rather than make peace.
Let me be clear about this: there is a difference in a peacemaker and a peace-keeper. I am not suggesting that we tiptoe around patting everyone on the head, never having an opinion about anything. But if our reaction to the Zimmerman verdict or Obamacare or gay marriage or whatever else lights our fire isn’t running through the filter of the Gospel and driven by a compulsion to abandon the safety of our finely-built boat and swim alongside the people we think are in dangerous water (or just wrong), then we are fighting the wrong damned fight (and my word choice is intentional and theological). If our response to people we don’t understand, even if they have wronged or offended us, is to churn out angry or defensive words instead of graciously and sincerely seeking to understand them, then we are motivated by our own defense and vindication and not the coming Kingdom of Jesus. If we can’t identify the line between healthy conversation and futile bickering…if we are teasing out people’s anger rather than provoking them to love and real life…if we are drawing them offsides and mocking them rather than meeting them where they are and listening to them, then we are deciding that we’d rather play those games than be called God’s children.
It happens. I get it. We’re human — again, wonderful and awful. But it’s time to acknowledge it for what it is — overt disobedience to a whole pile of scripture that is every bit as problematic as whatever sin we think we’re addressing. The Bible goes after this at least as aggressively as any of the hot button cultural wars we seem so eager to fight. A sampling:
Fools find no pleasure in understanding
but delight in airing their own opinions.
Whoever is patient and slow to anger shows great
but whoever has a quick temper magnifies his foolishness.
The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
I confess that my journey into obedience to this part of the way of Jesus has been and remains long and difficult. I fail regularly, and my internal mechanisms are still being reformed even in areas where I have learned to keep my mouth (or computer) shut. So as is always the case, each and every “we” here is sincere.
But I think we have a problem that goes well beyond the natural margin of human error. I think it’s time to stop and ask why we have decided that these fights we can’t let go of are more important that assuming the identity and occupation of God’s children. Why don’t we believe that making peace in the way Jesus said God’s people make peace is enough to reconcile all things, including the issues that have us twisted in knots? Why can we not recognize that when we decide that the end of advocating for the right position justifies the means of repeatedly poking people with sharp sticks just to try to bleed the life out of their wrong position, we have become what we despise?
If we are preoccupied with convincing others that they are wrong and proving that we are right — especially about secondary issues of politics or culture — then we are at risk of telling a different story than the Story:
It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other. (2 Cor 5:19)
That’s our message to the world around us, no matter how much they injure or offend us and no matter how wrong we have decided they are. It’s the only message that matters: God loves you relentlessly, and he sent Jesus not to condemn you for what you’ve done wrong, but to forgive you for anything and everything you’ve done wrong — to lead you back home and make you free. Jesus not only reconciles you with God, but he reconciles all broken relationships. He’s the one. That feeling deep inside you that people aren’t supposed to hate and hurt one another forever — that there has to be some way out of this. There is. It’s Jesus, who has done what no one else could: prove that the way to real life isn’t through conquest and getting our way, but through service and sacrifice and death.
A few sentences after declaring that Jesus is the Great Reconciler and that we exist to announce and embody his reconciliation, Paul quotes God (speaking through Isaiah):
When the time was right, I listened to you;
and that day you were delivered, I was your help.
And then he says this:
We are careful in what we teach so that our words won’t be a stumbling block…
God’s response to the same world we’re fighting was to listen and become their help. If we are his children, we not only follow his lead, but we take care that our words do not clutter anyone’s path to God’s message of reconciliation.
If our other messages and pet arguments and causes in any way distract people from seeing Jesus the Reconciler as he is…if they make us messengers of an incomplete reconciliation…if we are causing or exacerbating broken relationships instead of modeling the full reconciliation of the Gospel, then we are not only pushing our own agenda, but we are creating obstacles to the Gospel itself.
The world outside the Church doesn’t read the Bible. It reads Christians. May it read in us an eagerness to be called God’s children rather than children of another cause. May it read in us a love for making peace that is better than our best opinions and solutions. May it read in us the willingness to listen and understand before speaking. May it read in us the courage to step into even the bloodiest of frays and point the way toward grace and understanding. May it read in us the selfless story that points to Jesus as the reconciler of all things and the hope of all humanity.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
Thad — I keep coming to re-read this. Need the reminders offered here.
“The world outside, doesn’t read the Bible! They read Christians!” Thanks for showing me what that should look like.