Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Things the Lord Hates, Part 7

"Unity in Diversity"
Photo Credit: Fady Habib, Flickr Creative Commons
http://www.flickr.com/people/untitlism/
"It is the simplest of principles, it is the most difficult of principles. Let us first be clear on what unity does not mean: it does not mean uniformity. Unity is oneness. Diversity lends strength to any group of people. Unity binds together diverse elements so that, by virtue of their many strengths, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Me, You and Him." (Fady Habib, "Unity in Diversity")

Have you ever wondered about Jesus’ prayer for unity in the church? “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17: 22-23).
How are we doing with this “glory” that the Lord gave us? Are we truly “one?” Are we in complete “unity?” Does the “world” know this? Hmm.
So now we come to the last thing on our list of seven things that the Lord hates; “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”
“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him; haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness that pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Proverbs 6: 16-19; NIV)
Stirring up dissension.” How do you picture that? To better understand this, perhaps we would do well to first describe what it isn’t. First of all I imagine a peaceful setting where people are getting along reasonably well. I imagine friends and neighbors in a community helping one another out. I imagine them sharing tools, loaning each other a cup of sugar now and then, getting together to help one of their midst put a new roof on his house, and so on and so on. There is peace and harmony. There is brotherhood. There is love. There is unity. Well, you get the picture. Kind of nice, isn’t it? Perhaps we might say that, “it’s utopic.”

"Stirring Up Dissension?"
Photo Credit: Joan M. Mas
Flickr Creative Commons
http://www.flickr.com/people/dailypic/
Then into that utopian community, a new family arrives that do not share the same values, or perhaps who simply think a little differently on certain matters. Nobody notices this at first. Using very subtle tactics, this newcomer begins to ruffle the feathers of some against the others. Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate, but tension and distrust do begin creep in. Soon some families are noticeably absent from the regular celebratory community block parties. The rumor mill grows and that horrible “S” word, slander, begins to take root. Then, almost overnight, the landscape begins to change in this once peaceful community, as a few “For Sale” signs start to pop up here and there.

Can you hear the gossip? Some who have not yet succumbed to the dissension virus ask, “What, they’re moving? You mean, like to another community? Why?” Others, once their closest friends, are now strangely less sympathetic. They shrug their shoulders and say, “Let them go. Who cares! Good riddance!”

While I just made this quixotic community up, I am sure have all witnessed its demise before. Where have we done so, you ask? It comes by many different names. Some recognize it as a church split. For others it is denominationalism. In yet another case it is known as local church membership. Does that shock you?
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious … dissensions, factions” (Galatians 5: 20)
What do church splits, denominationalism and local church membership all have in common? They all pull brothers and sisters apart. They all make a distinction between us and them, and usually they do so with some measure of hurt feelings brought on by one dispute or another.
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of the Lord Jesus, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 1: 10-12).
In the very next verse the Apostle Paul then asks, “Is Christ divided?” Unfortunately the answer seems to be, “Yes.” Oh, to be sure, our Lord never intended that, but we’ve done it to him.  I follow Menno (Mennonites); I follow Calvin (Reformed); I follow Luther (Lutherans). We’ve divided Christ. It seems that we identify ourselves more by our denominational handles than by the name of the Lord. We’re Baptists; we’re Pentecostals; we’re Presbyterians; we’re Anglicans, not to mention a host of others. I have heard some people call denominations “flavors,” as if they were simply buying another ice cream cone.
Denominations are not flavors; they’re factions.
Photo Credit: Chiot's Run, Flickr Creative Commons
http://www.flickr.com/people/chiotsrun/
How did all that happen? Somewhere in our history there were dissensions. Somewhere in our history our forefathers acted in an unloving way toward their fellow believers and found it easier to divide than to reconcile. Somewhere in our recent history we do the same thing in that we too act in an unloving way with every church split. And every time we move on and join another local church by taking out membership in it, we do the same thing again by subtly saying, “I belong here” as opposed to “there” with you. We seem to have forgotten that the only true “ministry” that the church has is the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). But then again, it’s easier to divide ourselves that to reconcile ourselves, isn’t it?

Ultimately, though, all that has more to do with religion than it has to do with Christ. At the very least, it is not a life in the Spirit, for as the Apostle Paul says, “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16). What are dissensions and factions? They are “acts of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:19).

I define “Dissensions” as those quarrelling hard feelings caused by differences of opinion. Is God happy with this? On the contrary, He HATES it. Not only does He hate “it,” our Proverbs text says that He hates the “man” who stirs up this SIN in others. Notice that again, those who “stir up dissension among brothers,” God hates. Up until now, in the first six parts, it was always a thing that the Lord hated; but now God’s hatred seems to be directed at a man. Perhaps that is why James said, “we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Maybe we should pause and thing about that for a moment.
“Hate” seems like such a hard word. How are we to understand it?
Photo Credit: Rutger van Waveren, Flickr Creative Commons
http://www.flickr.com/people/rvw/
I can just see all the red flags now. Did I say that God hates a man? Actually, I didn’t, but the Bible did. I just quoted it. I’m reminded of “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13). Ever notice how some people seem to have a hard time with the notion of God hating anything, much less, anyone? Perhaps you’re one such person. In some ways I have yet to make peace with this notion too. Rather we prefer to think only of the love of God in Christ Jesus, which I might add, is right and proper for us to do. However, here is where it gets tricky for many of us. Does God’s wonderful love for us mean that He cannot hate? How do we reconcile this apparent dichotomy?

I like how the Encyclopedia of Bible Words (Lawrence O. Richards; Zondervan, page 325) discusses the objects of God’s hatred. It reads:
It is not surprising to read that God hates wickedness and will have no relationship with the evildoer. God, who loves justice, rightly hates robbery and iniquity (Isa 61:8). The Bible tells us that God also hates hypocritical worship offered by those whose lifestyles show that his moral standards have been ignored (Isa 1:13-15; Am 5:21). God’s hatred of idolatry is also well established. 
Usually we human beings are fearful of hatred. Both in ourselves and others it becomes a dominating emotion that robs one of judgment and of compassion. But God’s hatred is different. His hatred is always appropriate, focused on evil and the evildoer. And God’s hatred is always balanced by his attributes of love and compassion. Because God is the moral judge of the universe, he must make distinctions between good and evil. Because God is wholly committed to good, he must react to wickedness and act passionately and wisely to punish. As the psalmist says: “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors” (Ps 5:4-6).
So what are we to make of all this? Certainly we prefer to speak only of the love of God. I know that I do. However, maybe the truth about God is better described as if on a pendulum. It is this, but it is also that. God is one, but He is also Three-in-One. There is election and there is also free will. There is justice and there is also grace. There is Heaven and there is also Hell. There is God’s love and there is also God’s hate.

"Wind Gauge" in Lethbridge, Alberta. Photo Source: Unknown
Reminds me of our theological pendulums, sometimes stuck to one side.
I suspect that for many of us, though, that theological pendulum often seems to get stuck on one side or the other. We tend to gravitate to one camp or the other instead of seeing that both can be correct in their own ways and contexts. Maybe that’s why there are often so many dissensions in the church. Maybe it’s ultimately to do with our pet doctrines that we love so much. Maybe we would all do well to remind ourselves that even if we think we have all these mysteries of God figured out, if we don’t have genuine and unpretentious love, then ultimately we have nothing (1 Corinthians 13).

What was the Greatest Commandment? Oh yes, love God and love our fellow man. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” said Jesus (Matthew 22: 40). The way I read that, everything that has ever been said about God or will ever be said about God, hangs on love.

Is it reconciliation time? Hmm, I wonder.

Anyway, that’s the way I see it. Peace.

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