Another famous person committed suicide this week. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, another 123 people committed suicide today…but most of us will never know because they aren’t famous. Every day in America and around the world people suffer from sickness, poverty, political oppression, and mental illness just to list a few. We live in a broken world and we see the effects of this constantly.
If you dwell on those negatives, the world can be a very depressing place. For those, like the young celebrity who killed himself, they found themselves in exactly that place. As their minds focused on the darkness within them and around them, they were overwhelmed by it until they finally broke. Darkness surrounds us every day if we choose to focus on it, and it’s still there even when we don’t. It’s inescapable.
On Facebook earlier today I scrolled past a post by a friend with very different theological views. His post was attacking another Christian because of their views, which do not align with theirs of course. Now the person being attacked is a well known television preacher with a large church.
This person has written books and made videos and has a massive media presence, so from one viewpoint they should expect to be attacked by detractors. On the other hand, I doubt anyone was seriously swayed by the critical views from this preacher’s opponent. What I have found following decades of time spent in American churches, are myriad insular groups each convinced of their own place in the universe.
There’s an old joke that goes like this:
A man arrives at the gates of heaven. St. Peter asks, “Religion?“
The man says, “Methodist.“
St. Peter looks down his list and says, “Go to Room 24, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.“
Another man arrives at the gates of heaven. “Religion?“
“Go to Room 18, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.“
A third man arrives at the gates. “Religion?“
“Go to Room 11, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.“
The man says, “I can understand there being different rooms for different denominations, but why must I be quiet when I pass Room 8?“
St. Peter tells him, “Well, the Baptists are in Room 8, and they think they‘re the only ones here.“
Feel free to swap the punchline’s denomination for one of your own choosing, as the joke is ecumenical.
It’s a humorous little joke, but it exposes a deep issue in the American church. We are all so concerned about being “right” we are willing to sacrifice other Christians on our altars to appease our theological gods. When we start tossing around the term “heretic” for anyone who doesn’t subscribe to our form of orthodoxy we are treading along thin ice.
The Bible is an incredibly complex and nuanced book, and anyone who has spent serious time studying it should readily admit this fact. As I have studied it over the years, I am amazed at the wide differences of opinion among decorated scholars over fundamental issues of theology and interpretation. We cannot ignore this. We cannot pretend like our little group, or big one, has the market cornered on theology and simply dismiss everyone else out of hand and label them all heretics.
We are all human and all of our interpretations carry some measure of error no matter how many letters follow our name. As we interact with others, especially those who profess Christ as Lord, we would be wise to remember this. Recall the story of Jesus restoring Peter and then noticing John was following them. Peter was irked that John was eavesdropping and indignantly pointed to John and (I imagine this line in an accusatory tone) says, “Jesus, what about HIM?!?”
Jesus’s response should be enough for each of us, and it should cut us to the quick and remind us of our proper place in things. Jesus turned to Peter and said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow ME.” The Word goes on to say that a rumor started because of what Jesus said to Peter. Since the scripture only says that John, Peter, and Jesus were present when He made this statement, one wonders which of the three started the rumors…I have a guess.
Orthodoxy is a necessary part of our lives. Everyone lives with some form of orthodox belief system, even if they are not Christian. Humans require boundary lines and we invent them for ourselves if we reject those God has designed. However, our theological views should not lead us to degrade others even if the other person is wrong.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned suicide and pain and the darkness surrounding us all. When we follow Jesus we become light-bearers, the only beings on earth capable of dispersing the darkness and replacing it with beauty and goodness. By focusing on “being right” we are covering our light with a basket, becoming those who are more concerned about attacking those who disagree with us rather than shining into the darkness.
Should we, and will we have orthodoxy in our beliefs? Absolutely. But can we be kind to others even when we disagree with them? Without a doubt.
If Christians spent a little less time hammering away at each other and a little more time focused on the fruit of the Spirit, those things that actually matter, we might dispel even more darkness than we ever thought possible.
Just remember that some of what you believe isn’t true. You do not have all the answers. You do not understand everything in the Bible. No human does, has, or ever will. God’s revelation is accessible but never fully comprehensible because His full revelation is greater than humanity…and that’s how it should be.
See, He designed us so that we could each carry a portion of Him but never all of Him. Because of this design, we require Jesus and each other. God created humanity to live in community with one another and with Him. We are designed to live as a family.
So the next time you see someone bashing another person because of their views, move along. Find those who will be respectful of others and their beliefs. Connect with those who desire to live a life of love and kindness first and put orthodoxy second. Live within God’s defined boundaries, but do so in a way that spreads light rather than accusations.
Above all things, seek Jesus first and His Kingdom and then everything else will flow into your life. He tells us what the results of life with Him entail: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.