Do you remember this part of the bible?
38“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
“You Must stop him.” Jesus said “If he hasn’t passed our admissions test he better not be acting like he belongs to my group. For whoever is not part of our group is against us. I tell you the truth, it does not matter what you do if you’re not one of us. You still won’t get a reward.”
No, of course you don’t remember that. Because it’s not what the bible says. This is what the bible says:
39“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.
We are trained to take sides. We are built to want to belong. We are programmed to want to identify ourselves as this, that, or the other thing. But this is not Jesus’ way.
In a very important way, at this very moment, it does not matter if you are an independent, Republican, or Democrat. In a very important way, at this moment, it does not matter if you are pro-choice or pro-life. In a very important way, it does not matter if you believe in the death penalty right now. In a very moment way, It does not matter if you are a follower of Christ at this particular moment. It doesn’t matter if you believe marijuana should be legalized, as you read this. In a very important way it does not matter, right now, if you are a Neo-Nazi, an environmentalist, a creationist, an evolutionist, a socialist, a capitalist.
You are not, as you read this, doing anything either for or against any of these things. And yet, if you’re anything like me, something in you might rebel at that preceeding paragraph. If you’re anything like me, you want to affirm that it does matter that you believe in this, or that you’re opposed to that. Even if you’re not, at this moment, fighting for this or against that.
I’m not saying that those topics aren’t vitally important. I am saying that what we think, when we’re not doing anything about them, is fairly irrelevant. I’m thinking about Winter in New England.
I’m thinking about how lakes freeze over. At some point, the ice becomes thick enough to hold up people. (At some point, it becomes thick enough that cars can be safely driven across!)
It is a very important question: Is that ice thick enough to support me? Either I will be right or wrong in my answer to that question. But the truth is, the ice doesn’t care what I think. The thickness isn’t altered by what I believe.
And the truth is, if I’m engaging the ice, if I’m near it and having to decide if I’m going to walk over it, that’s an incredibly important decision. But if you’re sitting in the comfort of your living room, and your windows are all frosted over, and you’re reading this book, far away from that lake… It doesn’t really matter whether you’re right or wrong. It doesn’t really matter whether you think the ice will support you or not.
There is a time to speak the truth in love. There is a time to confront evil. There is a time to make a difference.
But if we’re not doing these things—speaking the truth, confronting evil, acting to make a difference—then we so often use our opinions as a way to take sides, to formulate our identity and sense of belonging.
One of the things we rob ourselves of, when we fail to dwell in mystery, is the truths that “the other side” might have offered us. In almost any debate, there are valuable things being said on both sides.
The world will tell us to pick sides and then participate in some great, usually symbolic battle. The world will tell you that the people who you don’t agree with are you enemy.
God says to pray for our enemies. Perhaps this is because prayer helps us see that they were never our enemy at all. Because God goes on to say that no man is our enemy. Our true enemy, according to scripture, is the powers behind the people who oppose us.
Here is a challenge for you and me.
Find a debate that we have always felt strongly about.
Renounce our membership in whatever side we have always tried to belong to.
Decide that we won’t fight anymore.
Choose to stop looking at this through the lens of battle. What if it was an orchard instead? What if the being people are like trees and the things they said are like fruit? What if we could walk among all these people saying so many different things and pluck those fruits that look best to us?
There is danger here. We might pick the “fruits” that confirm what we want to believe. But I believe that God will be with us when we ask him to be. He will guide us through the whole orchard.
When I have taken my kids apple picking, I have ended up with apples in my basket that did not end up in my mouth. They looked appealing at the time I pulled them from the tree, but when I got home I found something wrong with them.
That’s how it goes here, too. We don’t have to eat everything we put in our basket.
Most of us have spent too much of our lives defining the things we are against, and not enough time defining the things we are for. There are things that are worth standing for in the words of the person who you disagree with the most loudly. In fact, I find that the people who I’m most tempted to react strongly to are the people who I need to listen to the most.
Who do you react the most strongly to? What truths might they embody that you should make your own?