You can safely assume that you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. – Anne Lamott
One of the biggest problems in our culture is polarization. We have formed tribal cliques based on the assumed rightness of our own opinions. The internet has allowed us to be more connected than any point in our history. But the age of Facebook and Twitter has left us more divided than ever! We form tribalistic cliques to call out the stupidity of the other side and find echo chambers to reinforce our own presuppositions.
Reading the online comments of any hot button issue proves that the division has risen to a barbaric fervor. People are judged based on their ideology. Opinions separate the good guys from the bad guys. But none of the bad guys ever seem to realize that they are on the wrong side.
Our disagreements aren’t going away. The question for the church then is, ‘how would God have us relate to those we disagree with?’
Whose side is God on in these culture wars? As we consider that, we would do well to reflect on the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who said, “Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol.”
The church needs to be iconoclastic with its love. It needs to break down the walls of division and engage those who think and act differently than we do. The church needs to be known for its love. We can’t call ourselves Christians if we withhold our love to anyone. Jesus Himself said, “They will know you are Christians by your love.” Our job is to love people, not change them. Saving people is God’s job, not ours. But to love people we need to be with them in the messiness of the world.
In His longest recorded prayer in the Bible, Jesus makes this clear.
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15, ESV).
Jesus didn’t pray for his disciples to be removed from the world. He didn’t pray that they would immediately go to heaven with Him. Instead, He prayed that they would remain in the world. He gave His disciples a mission to engage the world with love.
Then He prayed for two things: truth and unity. Don’t miss this point. Jesus doesn’t want us to compromise the truth for the sake of unity. But neither does He want us to give up striving for unity because of the truth. Unity and truth are intended to complement each other, not be in competition. This isn’t about uniformity of opinion. It’s about living in harmony and love, despite differences we may have.
When I first read through the Old Testament stories, I would classify the characters into good guys and bad guys. Moses was the good guy and Pharaoh was the bad guy. David was the good guy and Goliath was the bad guy. The Israelites were God’s people and the Philistines were the enemy. You get the idea.
I thought in terms of us versus them. If I was on God’s side, I was ok, I reasoned.
However, as I continued to read through the Bible, I learned that God didn’t think about these things the same way that I did. I discovered that God doesn’t see people as enemies. He is not tribalistic in that way.
The first story that caught my attention is found in Joshua 5:13-14:
13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
This is significant. I thought Joshua was one of the “good guys” fighting for God’s “chosen” team, the Israelites. And yet the commander of God’s army doesn’t show allegiance to Israel. When Joshua asked whose side He was on, He said, “neither.”
The reason Israel was God’s chosen people was not because they were special. God wanted to use Israel to bless all the other nations He also loved. Israel’s mission was to recruit other nations to come to know God. Israel was successful when they were connected to God’s mission. They were defeated when they lost sight of it.
This week, when you interact with someone with whom you disagree, pray for God’s power to love them with the truth and unity Christ prayed for. If we can consistently do this, the polarization problem in the church will go away. It’s not about believing exactly the same thing as everyone else. It’s about showing love to others even in our differences. Love stands out in a polarized world.
God doesn’t have enemies. He only has people who are not yet His friends. God is on the side of truth, love and unity. Unity and truth complement each other. The question isn’t whose side is God on, the question is whose side are you on?