A friend posted a remark online reflecting his sense of outrage over an issue that Christians have debated for centuries. It is a real problem and thoughtful people who want to serve the Lord best will wrestle with it. And, honest and good people will arrive at very different conclusions. When I suggested in a follow-up post that we might do better trying to encourage dialogue than expressing our outrage, several other people joined the ‘discussion.’ My appeal for conversation was quickly buried by angry words and even more outrage.
Have you fallen into that trap, too? Social media encourages us to ‘say’ things and in ways that we likely would not say in a face to face conversation. But, there is another issue here, too. We are an angry culture, deeply divided, and quick to dig in to defend positions- big and small. Christians should be different.
Let me point us again to God’s wisdom. The Proverbs teach us that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” (Proverbs 15:1-3, NIV) It is worth noting that final phrase is what gives us reason to be gentle people – God knows what is going on! My appeal is not that we become people without convictions or that we fail to stand up for what is right. What we need is less emotion, less outrage, and more willingness to hear, to reflect, before we respond.
I was once one of those Christians who was quick to throw a verbal grenade, to make sweeping generalizations about others based on limited knowledge. “All those … “ was the introduction to a great deal of foolishness from my lips! That is a source of real regret.
Do I still find myself uncomfortable by the positions taken by others? I do.
When those ideas threaten a cherished value or my convictions do I grow defensive? I do.
Do I sometimes react before I think or listen? I do.
But, I constantly remind myself that people and relationships are important. My own life is a complex design of values and ideals that defy easy labels. Too many conversations I would love to have are shut down because I fail to meet some test in the eyes of another which, to them, means I must surely be an opinionated, bigoted, self-righteous old man who is incapable of understanding.
James was the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem, a church torn by debate over the proper way to regard the Jewish traditions from which nearly all the first generation of Christians came. As more Gentiles came to faith, the debates over circumcision, kosher diets, Sabbath-keeping, and eating food that had been prepared in temples of idols became sharply divisive! That wise pastor taught this – “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20, NIV)
Whatever ‘side’ you are on, whatever cause you advocate, whether you are young or old, male or female, whatever your political convictions – let us commit to put Christ first and to learn from Him. He calls us to peace. We do not have to affirm every position or idea of another to practice acceptance of the person.
Here is a word from the Word. May the Lord make us truly wise.
“Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed.” (Proverbs 3:13-18, NIV)
Immortal invisible God only wise
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes
Most blessed most glorious the Ancient of Days
Almighty victorious Thy great name we praise
Unresting unhasting and silent as light
nor wanting nor wasting Thou rulest in might
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love
Thou reignest in glory Thou dwellest in light
Thine angels adore Thee all veiling their sight
All laud we would render O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee
© Words: Public Domain