Tuesday, July 9, 2013

No "We" or "They"

I once knew a man who set his wristwatch alarm to go off (quietly, so that only he could hear it) every hour on the hour. When the tone sounded, he would stop what he was doing and become attentive to what was going on around him. He would pay close attention to the people near to him and would watch for signs of what God was doing in that time and place.

I think it’s time for followers of Jesus to listen for the tone, stop what they are doing, and pay attention to what is going on.

We live in a highly reactive society, and Christians seem quick to mirror that cultural reactivity. So when things happen around us—new rules on marriage, new standards for immigration, new economic policies, and so on—we react and draw lines so that we know who “they” are and who “we” are. After all: “We” are the good guys, and “they” are the bad guys. It’s important to know your enemies, right?

There is a two-fold problem with this for followers of Jesus: First, there is no “we” or “they.” There is only “us.” Second, we are not to deal with “enemies” in the traditional way of hatred.

In the midst of all the national and international turmoil, we Christians are missing a golden opportunity. We are missing the opportunity to look at the drama in our society and see our own complicity in it. We are missing the opportunity to see the one’s we have labeled the “other” and see ourselves in those people, regardless of their sexuality, their national origin, or their politics.

The apostle Paul nails this:

“. . . you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” (Romans 2:1)

Paul was working to get the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians to learn to live together as one spiritual family. They seem to have been quick to draw lines of separation between them, judging one another and allowing each side to think it had moral superiority over the other. Paul just doesn’t go for that. In fact, he claims that all human beings stand in solidarity with one another, not only in their universal access to God but also in their brokenness:

“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . .” (Romans 3:22b-23)

All human beings stand side by side in the reality of God’s love but also in the reality of sin and brokenness. In that sense, there is no one but “us” in the room.

So, when we are confronted with the social and political issues of our day, rather than beginning at the lines of division, we need to begin at the beginning: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All. That means all. Including you and me and all those “others” out there.

I’m not suggesting that everything is okay because we’re all screwed up (that would be no different, in effect, than saying that everything is okay because nobody is screwed up). I’m saying that the recognition of our solidarity with the rest of the world must draw us into humility and repentance before it allows us to consider standing in the place of judgment. And if, by “judgment,” we mean standing above others in a spirit of condemnation, then we have taken on a role that does not belong to us. If, however, we mean that there is a judgment to be made between was is life and what is death, what is helpful and what is hurtful, then we just might be able to pursue that course for the sake and the good of the world. Remember: It’s a world that God loves.

As far as having enemies goes, we who follow Jesus are not called to have enemies at all. We might have to recognize that there are people who don’t like us, who wish us harm, who categorize themselves as our enemies, but we don’t seek to have enemies. In fact, people should expect that the best enemy to have is a follower of Jesus. That’s because, as Jesus said,

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven . . .” (Matthew 5:44-45)

We in “the church” have missed so many golden opportunities throughout history. If we miss the opportunity to see ourselves in the same mirror of brokenness that we think reflects only the image of the “other,” then we miss seeing what God is really doing all around us, and what he desires to do within us.


“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

1 comment:

Dave Jacobs said...

The "us vs them" mentality seems to be growing and growing in our culture and our churches. I despair at times, fearing that there is nothing that can be done other than for me to determine to stay on the outside of it all. That way I can be judgmental towards those who I consider judgmental. ;-)