George MacDonald, Scottish author, poet and Christian minister once penned, “Division has done more to hide Christ from the view of men than all the infidelity that has ever been spoken.”
We live in a divided country. Having meaningful conversations is difficult when emotions run as deep as they do now. How do we see Christ when there is such profound division?
First, we must acknowledge how hard it is to take our focus off the division. This is not to say that we should ignore it, but we need to take a step or two away from it. This gives us some breathing room to look a bit more dispassionately at what divides us.
Second, and this is harder still, we need to try to meet resistance and even hatred with compassion.
Author and speaker Brennan Manning once said, “What makes the Kingdom come is heartfelt compassion: a way of tenderness that knows no frontiers, no labels, no compartmentalizing, and no sectarian divisions.”
Let’s be honest about it – this is incredibly hard work. But it is possible. And we have examples from Jesus to fall back on. Take the parable of the Good Samaritan where a traveler is stripped, beaten, and left for dead along the side of the road. A priest and a Levite both pass by without lifting a finger to help. But then a Samaritan, a sworn enemy of the Jewish people, comes to the aid of the injured man.
Jesus tells this story in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” We can conclude from this story that the neighbor is the one who shows mercy, the Samaritan.
I’ll grant you that it may be easier in a certain way to show compassion in an instance when our adversary is physically hurt and vulnerable. But what if he or she isn’t? What if the person is hale and hearty and in adamant opposition to what we think and believe? What if the person hates us – or we hate them for the positions they hold on certain matters? What if the people with whom we disagree aren’t just people from a certain mindset, but our neighbors or even family members?
The following is but a partial list of scripture that has to do with the way we should treat those with whom we are in deep disagreement or those who hate us...
Psalm 34:14 Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
Luke 6:35 "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons and daughters of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.
1 Thessalonians 5:15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.
Matthew 5:44-45 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Luke 6:27-28 But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
2 Thessalonians 3:13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.
We have the example of God in Jesus Christ who did not repay evil for evil, even on the cross. We have the teachings and parables that he gave while still on this earth that point repeatedly to compassion and mercy toward the other.
We have our work cut out for us. And let’s admit that we can’t do this on our own. Our human predilection is to return tit for tat. God knows this. God also knows that we’ll just go further down the rabbit hole if we continue on that trajectory. That’s why we’re directed toward actions that are God-like when faced with divisions and their fallout.
When we choose instead to turn to love, doing good, blessing, and prayer we are aligned with God’s way of facing the adversaries without and within us. This gives us the ability and power to change ourselves and, possibly, to change others.
The divisions around us are real and deeply affecting. But we can shine a light on Christ’s presence in the world by being people of love, goodness, blessing, and prayer. We can listen and state our truths with compassion. We will make mistakes and missteps along the way, but that is part of the journey.
In the words of Brennan Manning, “In Love's service, only wounded soldiers can serve.” (Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging)
With the background of stark divisions, we can reflect another way of being. That way will look nothing like the acrimony and bitterness we see now. We can provide a reprieve from all that and offer something more powerful and enduring. The love of God through Jesus Christ.