Don’t get me wrong, I always read the comments on my own posts, but otherwise I try to avoid them like the plague. Some people find the comments more entertaining than whatever the original post was, but I suspect the people who feel that way are the same ones who love to watch those horrific, uncensored videos of accidents; the bloodier the better.
In my opinion, the comments often display the worst of humanity. There are usually a few kind people who thank the writer for what was said; but then, inevitably, someone has something negative to say and it’s all downhill from there. Someone rebuts Negative Nelly and she responds with name calling and the brawl begins.
Even though I believe in the fallen nature of mankind, I’m always appalled by how people can completely misconstrue what others are actually saying, and how vicious they become in their responses. There is seemingly no compassion, no restraint, no reason. There is only pure judgment and condemnation. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, people appear to enjoy getting ugly when they are expressing their opinions; the uglier the better.
I wish I could say this was only a “worldly” phenomenon. No, really, I do wish I could say that! There is a part of me which still wants to believe that in Christian circles this would not be a “thing”; but, of course, it is. Yet, that part of me which wants Christians to always and only live from a position of harmony and love would prefer not to see how terribly disparate we are in the way we view things, and how hostile we are towards each other because of it.
Whenever I do breakdown and read the comments, I am very nearly brought to despair. I see how fractured we Christians are and how violently we disagree, even on tenets we consider to be central. I see that the differences are not just between broad factions in the Church Universal, but between factions within factions; and on and on it goes until it seems that not one single person actually sees things the same as another.
The thing is, that conclusion is actually correct; there truly is not one single person who sees everything exactly the same as another. It’s not our differences which are the biggest problem. The real problem is with the expectation that we, as Christians, should not and will not have those differences; particularly on the interpretation of core issues.
I am not a relativist who is saying there are no absolute truths. I believe there are profound absolutes; but we are not born knowing them. And, while some may learn of those truths over the course of their lifetime, not everyone will. Regardless, no human can come to a perfect knowledge of them; and if, with divine intervention, someone did, they would be alone in their perfect understanding.
What is the point I am trying to make? Our non-existent or imperfect knowledge has no affect whatsoever on truth itself. Truth stands on its own, apart from our understanding of it; however, because we are finite beings, sincere Christians may even disagree on what the absolute truths are! Not one person comes to his understanding of the things of God by following the exact same road as anyone else. As Christians, we are all called by the same Father God, through the Holy Spirit, to believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son, on our behalf, but we are called at different times and from different places and our level of understanding of the things which we now see through a glass, darkly, will inevitably be different for each person.
Unless we accept this, we will continue allowing the differences in the individual journeys on which the Spirit is leading us to divide us and to set us against each other. The differences are not the problem; the lack of grace we show to each other because of these differences is the real problem.
In our travels, our human nature causes us to gravitate toward those who are most like ourselves in understanding, and then to draw battle lines against those who do not see things the way we do. It is “us” against “them”, and we are initially exhilarated in our unity. But, inevitably, it comes to our attention that one of “us” is not like the others, to paraphrase Sesame Street, and we turn on and root out the offending imposter. Or, someone discovers that the group does not accurately reflect their personal beliefs, so they reject the group and leave. These patterns continue, with new people coming and old people going as points of difference are recognized and dealt with.
I once belonged to a church which was considered to be a bit too “cutting edge”, whatever that meant. We rather enjoyed our rebel status, and fought valiantly together as the power of our denominational leadership was brought to bear against us, until finally their power prevailed and we were merged with another congregation which toed the denominational line. We all left the newly formed group eventually and went our separate ways, but we held each other in our hearts as fallen comrades of sorts and we thought fondly of the time we had shared.
We occasionally got together to catch up on each other’s lives and to reminisce, and I was fascinated to find that our memories of what united us were quite different for each person. The thing which meant the most to me, the defining truth I learned during our time together and which subsequently shaped the course of the rest of my life, was not the “take away” for others. Our lives had intersected at some perceived commonality, which was apparently different for each of us, and when we separated each one continued on a journey quite different from the others.
As Christians, we are all on a journey to Truth. This Truth is not a concept, but a Person. The journey is not one of our own devising and we are not our own guides. We are led by the Holy Spirit who blows us where he wills; but we can be assured that he knows the Way, and that we can trust his leading no matter the path on which he takes us.
We can also trust that same Holy Spirit to faithfully lead our fellow Christians. I am no more your guide than I am my own. I may discover that you still hold fast to a position which I shed years ago. It may be a position which I found to be extremely damaging to myself and others. As a partaker of grace, recognizing that you are in the same danger I once was, I can reach out to you with a heart of love, pointing to the Truth which was so graciously revealed to me; but I am not called to attack, berate or humiliate you because you have not yet understood what I now know, nor is there a need for me to despair because we are not yet at the same place.
2 Corinthians 5:20 says “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”
Those of us who have come to understand our true condition as sinners desperately in need of a savior, are now free to reach out to those who differ from us in their understanding with the same gentle love which was shown to us before our eyes were opened; knowing that it is the kindness of God, flowing through us, which is meant to lead to repentance. Then, without rancor or malice, we can simply trust God.
Bonnie is a wife, mother of three grown children and Grammie to five amazing boys. She has dubbed herself a Grace Herald who will always be a teenager at heart after working with the teen and college age groups in her church for more years than she wants to admit. She says that teaching those students gave her the incredible opportunity to both grow in her understanding of scripture and to share what she learned. Bonnie has considered herself a Christian her whole life, but she did not always know about grace, and once she discovered that Good News, telling others became her greatest passion.