If you ever wondered why people cannot seem to get along one another, observe three dogs with only one bone. It is not enough for one dog to get the bone while the others have none. And the bone cannot be split in three equal parts. Each dog wants the one and only bone.
The many social issues we face are like the one bone. Whether the issue is abortion, racial equality, sexuality, religious freedom, immigration – the list just goes on and on – each person has an opinion. And, to be “on the right side of history” as the saying goes, you must agree with them. The saying is just another way of saying, “I am right, you are wrong … period.” If you are not persuaded by facts, then shove them around with emotions. If heavy-handed emotions do not bring you around, then simply dismiss the other person with a pejorative term: racist, bigot, misogynist, fundamentalist, denier…
Is it possible for people with such opposite views to live in harmony with one another? If so, how so?
John Lennon wrote a song for the Beatles called, “All you need is love.” And he was right – if you get the definition of love right. The Apostle Paul gave us a blueprint for how to get along with people:
13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:13-14, NIV)
Bear with each other…
A couple came to me for counseling. The husband complained, “My wife gets really irritated with me if I crunch food too loud.” OK, it is a little thing yet little things can cause big problems in any relationship. He continued, “Even eating with my mouth closed, she sometimes gets very annoyed.” “Stop smacking!” she will shout. “But my mouth is closed…” he mumbles back. And then the quibbling escalates. As I inquired about the problem, I learned that when his wife was growing up, her father kept everyone at the table until he finished eating. And he ate very loudly – “smacking” as she put it. To this day, when she hears anyone crunching a cookie or cracker, she is annoyed not only at that person but by the childhood memory as well. The context of her grievance was a revelation to her husband.
Context provides insight that leads to understanding.
How can you bear with someone who holds a diametrically opposed view of an issue that is extremely important to you? Obviously the husband needs to be able to eat food. The key is seeing to understand the other person’s context around the issue. How did your acquaintance arrive at their point of view? Your understanding of where the other person is coming from does not mean you agree with them – just that you understand them. With his wife’s context understood, the husband could approach things differently. Now when he is eating something extra crunchy, he just goes to another room so as not to disturb her. It is an act of compassion on his part.
Bearing with each other also means listening and seeking to understand more than expounding your point and trying to win an argument. In the end, you and your acquaintance may still hold opposing views. You must agree to disagree in an agreeable manner. Pound the fist (figuratively speaking) on the table of debate but then go have a nice meal together. The only society where everyone agrees (at least publicly) is an oppressive, totalitarian regime where there is no freedom of speech.
Forgive one another…
How many times do you roll an offense around in your mind and think, “I can never forgive you for [insert your hurt here]…” Or maybe your thought is more along the lines of “I tried to forgive but it keeps coming back – all the pain…” The single greatest balm you can apply to your soul is to release the bitterness and forgive one who hurt you. Yet the balm of forgiveness seems to be priced beyond your means to pay.
Here is another context that helps:
Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13b, NIV)
God determined in the eons of eternity to forgive you. Though He is righteous and you and I admittedly are not, God offers forgiveness to you through Jesus Christ. Even when you run away from God (Romans 5:8), He has already provided for your complete forgiveness:
Christ died once for our sins. An innocent person died for those who are guilty. Christ did this to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18, CEV)
If Jesus Christ died once for sins, then that means that God offers forgiveness for all sins – past, present, and future. So if God is able to forgive ALL of your sins, surely you can forgive someone one sin? Maybe two sins? Maybe a even whole boatload of failures…
Put on love…
Bearing with others and forgiving others is bound together in the biblical concept of love. While many emotional definitions of love exist, the Bible explains love as an action, not a feeling. Love is doing whatever it takes to meet another person’s need and expecting nothing in return.
“Seriously?” you say. “You expect me to make sacrifices for other people, to put other people first in my life? No one cares about me…”
Here is your context for love:
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18, NIV)
Words matter. But when it comes to love, your actions are what matter most. Love must be an action word for our lives. Love must also be done in truth – an attitude of compassion and humility rather than duty.
If each of us puts on love in this manner, unity is possible among diverse people and people groups. Unity does not mean uniformity. God has given each one of us our own abilities, preferences, dreams, weaknesses. No two people are just alike and that is a good thing – so long as you recognize everyone, not for their differences, but in their God-given uniqueness.