This past summer, BSF teaching leaders from around the globe gathered at the organization’s headquarters in Dallas to learn about Revelation. They were there for a week. Teaching leaders from New York and Nigeria, from Indiana and Ireland, gathered together to study God’s word, to participate in workshops and choirs, to hear from panels of theologians. We watched a promotional video of their time this last week in our local class. As such things tend to be, it was inspiring and uplifting, and it made me wish I could have been there.
Afterwards, our teaching leader stood and talked a bit about her time at the conference. She told us she’d never expected BSF, an interdenominational organization, to teach Revelation, fearing it was too confusing, too divisive. It would be too difficult a task to teach it well when so much disagreement surrounded it. After her week in Dallas, however, she came away excited, renewed, invigorated by the many theologians who discussed their differing views with kindness, with respect.
“We can be unified,” she told us, her voice filled with wonder and joy. We can be unified as Christians, because, despite our differences, we agree on the central message of Revelation and of the Bible – that God is supreme, that He is glorious, that He is and will be victorious. Our differences don’t need to – and, indeed, shouldn’t – divide us.
We can be unified, but it’s so much harder to believe that, much less live it out, here in the real world, where passions run high and words fly like lightning bolts through cyberspace and everything seems to matter so very much. It’s hard to believe it, when lives – real lives of real people – are deeply affected by the decisions people make, by the ramifications of our opinions. Ideas have consequences. They do, and while we’re flinging our thoughts out on social media, out into the big wide world, it can feel like everything is at stake, like it all hinges on this debate, this discussion, this argument.
And so we word things strongly, hoping to make an impact. We publish too soon, too quickly. We type without thinking. We become so wrapped up in our own view of the world that we fail to see how another might see things differently. We respond in anger. We attribute motives and actions to others. Words are said or implied – racist, naïve, unloving, self-righteous, afraid, hypocritical – about those with whom we disagree. Sometimes, we believe them to be true. Sometimes, we are only caught up in an argument, trying to make a point. Either way, we are wrong.
In our passion, in our pride, grace becomes a five-letter word that’s easy to say but impossible to live.
I am guilty of this. Guilty as charged.
We sang “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” as one of our hymns at BSF this week, this same week we watched the video on the seminar in Dallas. It was fitting timing, to sing this song before being reminded of our need for unity. I lifted my voice with dozens of women, and, as we sang the third verse, I thought about this past week, about Syria, about how much we all fumble around, doing our best to see God and love others in this dark and broken world.
Thou art giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Wellspring of the joy of living,
Ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,
All who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.
Here’s the truth I tend to forget: most of the people who participate in these impassioned debates – be they about refugees or gay marriage or gun control or some other hot button issue – most people in these debates are like you, like me. Most of us are just searching for the best way forward in a world that is confused and muddled and difficult. We’re all just stumbling in the dark, trying to see how to love our neighbor, whether that neighbor lives next door to us or across the globe. We’re doing what we can with the knowledge we have.
We’re all just trying to figure it out, trying to learn how to love each other, and we are so very bad at it.
And so this reminder, this plea, to myself as much as it is to anyone else who would read this:
Be kind. Don’t assume actions or motives. Recognize that reasonable people can come to different conclusions, even given the same information. Think twice before posting, before responding. Have humility. Give grace.
And pray, constantly pray.
Teach us how to love each other, Lord. Teach us how to love.