The Optimistic Christian
Christians: What Matters Now
I have an urgent sense that it is time for Christians to stop nagging each other over the kinds of differences among us that require academic studies to define and unearth. The situation of our world is not so stable that we can behave as if the Body of Christ is a sort of current-affairs debating society, in which people form interest groups and the point is to criticize the others' perspectives and priorities.
One thing God has taught me is that love starts, on principle, by being the one in the room that does not do that. Criticism has its place in human relations. But love's track record is a lot better than criticism's when it comes to winning souls, building others up, getting everyone through hard times, and—for that matter—keeping our own minds at peace. It is not possible to be happy while focusing on where we think other people are going wrong. This is a principle of absolute simplicity, yet we can spend entire lives circling around it and refusing to let it speak to us or govern our motives.
This doesn't mean that we shouldn't offer suggestions to others, or engage them on questions of style or syntax. But there are very few things in this realm that have to be approached as problems or failures that need to be corrected. Heaven is going to be full of people who didn't see very many things through others' eyes while they were on earth, and who had little idea that their way of talking about God seemed peculiar to others.
It enriches us to learn about the perspectives of others, but it is not the correction of a fault. Why not present the things we could benefit from as opportunities for growth and enlargement? That's how God sees them, after all. It is a form of human pride to grade others on their breadth of vision or experience in this world. God is not keeping books on that.
Can we learn to let Him be the judge in all these things, and refrain from judging where He does not? That's a good question. The process of learning to turn things over to Him can be rocky. When you've got physical problems, your mood during the turning-over process can range from elation, at having Him to depend on, to disappointment and resentment that He is letting things go wrong with you.
Ultimately, what affects everything in your mind and spirit is that you don't know where it's all headed. And neither do Christians, as we eye each other in worship, Bible study, and the expression of Christian ideas. We don't know the future of anyone else's quality of scriptural understanding, or what things God can use to reach people, or whose church will still be standing in twenty years and whose will perish from lack of vision or wisdom. We try to exert some influence on it, but the important truth is that we don't know what will happen. Our supreme obligation is to cultivate the wisdom, attitudes, and relationship with Him that God wants us to have, and to do what He tells us to. As for outcomes, He is always frustrating our ability to foresee them.
Meanwhile, we don't know where our world is heading, or where our own lives will be a year from now. I have the sense that a year from now, the internecine concerns of Christians in December 2012 will look complacent and shallow to us. As this Advent season starts, it could be a good time for us to remember what's important: that God loves us, that He sent Jesus to bring us salvation, abundant life, and eternal restoration with Him, and that He wants us to show others that that means good and marvelous things, in the lives of God's people.
Note: Not to keep anyone in suspense: it appears I may have hyperthyroidism, although we're still running a seemingly endless series of tests for a number of symptoms. It's treatable. Untreated, it isn't fun. It may have been triggered in part by one or more of the physical problems I wrote about earlier this fall. God is right here with me through it all, hearing a lot of complaints and an occasional "thank you."
J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval intelligence officer and evangelical Christian. She retired in 2004 and blogs from the Inland Empire of southern California. She writes for Commentary's CONTENTIONS blog, Hot Air's Green Room, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.