“…and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” – Philemon 1:6
Christians, as the 16th century reformer Martin Luther liked to remind us, are those who assert things and even enjoy doing so! So how can this play out in our relationships with others without our being totally obnoxious or even dangerous? (OK, I’ll admit, as someone who has at times alienated family and friends, maybe I am not the one to be writing this). Especially when we increasingly live in a world where there are non-Christians who also are very forthright that they assert, and others who shy away from the fact and even deny that they do this (they are not ideologues like you!), preferring to talk about approaching everything in terms of being “working hypotheses subject to testing” (think of that most amiable of atheists, Steven Pinker).
You know, “truth”, but never truth and especially not Truth.
Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a colleague about… conversation. During it, I had basically asked him whether he thought it was ever appropriate to go into a conversation quite sure that you are right and the other persons is wrong, and with a desire to help that person “see the light”. He said, in part, that the main purpose of going into any conversation is to learn something, and that this is a “newly developing paradigm” which is opposed to what he sees as the predominant way of communicating: conversation at someone with the intent to change minds which are seen as pliable and weak (to illustrate his point, he talked about war propaganda in the West – things like this).
Here is what I said in reply:
I see the purpose of conversation, in general, as being to love my neighbor, who bears the image of God. This means, in general, not going into a conversation to learn something for myself, but to listen to them and to respond accordingly in love. If I learn something – or if I am able to more explicitly articulate the nature of God’s love for them – that is an added bonus.
Of course, we are still attracted to certain persons and want to start conversations with them because of our curiosity to learn – true enough. Other times, we are happy to have other “excuses” to start a conversation with this or that person we find attractive (and here, having a dog or a baby can help). But the Christian “stand” is to realize that God, in the midst of all of this, throws all our “conversation partners” into our path, and we dare not discriminate against any human being.
Thanks for helping me to realize that, to articulate what I know (for what I know is what I have yet to be shown is false).
The answer I gave here dovetails with another conversation I had this past week with a student, which kind of expands on the “posture”, or “stand”, I describe above. Stacie said the following:
This last week of class was interesting for me. I work in child protections which in its self can be heart wrenching. Thinking about government and God was something that I have always learned to separate. However, I do my job because the love that God gave me for children and families; well I guess people in general. Many times when walking downtown and seeing an elderly homeless man I see the eyes of Jesus. That may sound strange but I feel that it’s my responsibility to help these individuals. I think that it’s important for us to get back to the basics. Christianity is something that needs to be lived on the inside and outside. I think that if we follow in God we will be better leaders and be better equipped to handle the situations that seem hopeless.
Holding the urge to speak here about how “social justice is not the Gospel” (believe me, in the class I do talk again and again about how the Gospel is first of all about what I Corinthians 15 says it is… Christ’s rescue of sinners from sin, death, and the devil through His death and resurrection) here is how I answered her:
I agree with you. Christ is in all. He is distinct from us, as He is our Creator, but He is in you and me and everyone else. In Him, we are told, “we live and move and have our being” (see Paul in Acts 17). That does not mean that all believe and are saved, but that His love moves all of us and anything that is good in life is to be attributed to Him.
I think my default orientation should be to be a “little Christ” to my neighbor. To come to them and love them with His strong love. I am to imitate Christ and to be Christ’s hands and feet and mouth to them. This responsibility starts with my own church, which, I thank God, includes my immediate family. It then means my friends and closest neighbors, particularly those who are fellow believers, and radiates outward – to include the whole world. Still, love is concrete and should start closest to home. It is easy to “love” my abstract “neighbor”. Love should never be content to have loved enough, in terms of the intensity of our love or the number of those we love.
Why such an active orientation? It is better to give than to receive, Jesus said. This is the kind of person that we want to be. All this said, we must receive! There is a time to realize we must just stop, shut up, and receive. We must receive from our neighbors, as they love us – with material and emotional assistance, but particularly with spiritual assistance – as they give us God’s life-giving word. If we are not first receivers we not only have nothing to give, but we die. It is really good to receive Jesus through words – and a big part of this is receiving these words from the saints of old as well – particularly those saints who God used to write the Bible.
With all of this said about being an active giver I note that I don’t feel like I excel at this by any means, even sadly, with something as simple as “lending an ear” (my wife will tell you…). And there are even some times I feel like I can basically only receive… and cry out: “Lord save me/us!”
And by your pulling me aside and reminding me – asserting to me! – that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!” you love me.
That is why I need you to speak with me – and to me.