We are faced with many lines in the sand these days. Everyone seems to be digging in to fiercely defend their line in the sand. As we face a seemingly unending pandemic, heated discussions about social distancing, face masks, freedom of speech, racism, theology, or politics rage online, intruding on all our relationships and underlining an ever-increasing sense of polarization.
To “draw a line in the sand” goes back, in one reference, to an encounter between the Roman consul Gaius Popillius Laenas and the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who, in 168 B.C., was about to enter the Ptolemaic city of Alexandria with a large army. Based on the report of the Roman historian Livy,* the Roman leader drew a circle around Antiochus, handed him the written demands by the Roman Senate ordering an immediate retreat, and told him not to move out of the circle until he had considered the consequences. Antiochus hesitated briefly as he contemplated his options. He then agreed to withdraw with his army. Rome had just exerted its power and influence—even in the absence of its battle-hardened legions—by drawing a line in the sand.
What lines are we drawing in the sand as we engage with people living in a complex world?
What lines are we drawing in the sand as we engage with people living in a complex world? What issues are nonnegotiable for followers of Jesus waiting for the coming of the Master?
When we face tough choices and difficult circumstances, it’s always good to consider the example of Jesus. Jesus faced a polarized nation. First-century Judaism was awash in competing sects and parties. His starting point, while talking to a top-notch religious scholar and member of the Sanhedrin, was this: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3). The kingdom of God requires a complete reset, a spiritual birth, resulting in a new direction, even if it’s only in baby steps, toward the heavenly Father.
Once our operating system has been changed, we still face hard questions that require us to make difficult choices. How did Jesus make these calls as those surrounding Him sought to push and pull and drag Him into their arguments and agendas?
Gentle Jesus chose His battles carefully. His opponents goaded and prodded Him—yet He remained kind and caring and focused on God’s kingdom. Kingdom values, however, were never up for discussion as Jesus engaged His world. Jesus ignored the legalistic Sabbath interpretations of His contemporaries as they sought to trap Him and His disciples. He never engaged in the typical rabbinical Sabbath discussions, yet He never wavered on the Sabbath that He had established right at Creation. That was a line in the sand.
In the midst of an increasingly more toxic mix of vibes and opinions produced on social media by those who feel strongly about what’s right and what’s wrong, let’s resist the temptation to retaliate and respond in kind. Before we draw another line in the sand, let’s make sure that this line is based on kingdom values and reflects the mind and heart of Jesus.
* For the text, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaius_Popillius_Laenas.
Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as an associate editor of Adventist Review Ministries.