April 1, 2021

Poles Apart

No longer does the center just fail to hold: for many it has ceased to be.

Bill Knott

This is the age of stark polarities, and not just at the poles.

Are you satisfied, or are you “woke”? Are you red, or are you blue? Immigrant or native-born? Rampaging vegan or unrelenting carnivore? Contemporary or hymn-attracted? Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter?

Assumed duality—or outright blunt antagonism—invades the glorious complexity of the children of God.

The center that we used to prize—the purples, refugees, lacto-ovo vegetarians, and community builders—have small appeal when all the world will judge you by your tags. No longer does the center just fail to hold: for many it has ceased to be—a relic of an era “dissed” for compromise and “politics.”

And even in the church of Jesus, stark polarities obtrude. Is your locus classicus in John’s Gospel—“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)*—or in the Revelation given John? “Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath” (Rev. 14:9, 10). Is the Jesus whom you follow the Lord who silently observes the hidden gift of cold water, or is He the soon-ascending Lord best captured by the last words Matthew quotes Him saying? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

No longer does the center just fail to hold: for many it has ceased to be.

So foolish is the madness of the age, we soon make Jesus argue with Himself. If kindness is the sum of Christian faith, then what has preaching got to do with it? If we are judged, not by our record of untrampled Sabbaths, but by the ways we treat “the least of these,” what makes us go, disciple, baptize, and teach those who never heard the gospel?

And if the essence of discipleship is found in making more disciples, should we invest our time or treasure in those who may want our whole-grain bread but never prize the Bread of Life?

A thousand pulpits, loud with noise, assert that one truth supersedes the other—that if Jesus were alive today, He would be living with the homeless in the park; or, conversely, that His anger is reserved for those who do soft things instead of saying necessary hard things. We make of Him who called Himself the Lamb a golden calf by which we say we worship Him. He is all grace. He is all truth. The one denies the other.

Both take us back to Egypt.

May God forgive us, for we rarely get it right. Jesus was, and Jesus is, in John’s magnificent expression, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He doesn’t make us choose between the love that won our hearts to Him and the love that causes us to win other hearts for Him. Divine consistency—filled up with grace and truth—draws no bright lines between the prison visit and the personal ministries visit, between putting real clothes on real people and figuratively putting on the robe of His unsullied righteousness. In the judgment it will be the wholeness of our lives He sees: the rich humility we’ve learned; the other-centeredness we’ve lived; the passion for the hungry lost that shows in us His heart of love.

What Jesus wants to overturn today are the tight categories by which we claim to follow Him. The braided cords will threaten those who make of Him an either/or—those who squeeze the Lord of life into the loyalty of brands. If we should end up with the goats, it will be for our lack of love—love for the lonely and the lost; mercy for the thirsty and the thoughtless; grace for the wrongfully accused, and grace for those who got it wrong.

“He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).

So stay in grace and truth.

* Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.