Today I find myself reading about the literary structure of the Biblical Book of Judges (I know, nerd; bare with me). The author I was reading made the point that the Book of Judges is structured to show exactly how God’s people had become as bad or worse than the people around them. Anyone who reads Judges is likely to notice the author is showing you Israel’s hard times are because, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Jdgs. 17:6)” In the book Israel ultimately follows the path to hatred, murder, idolatry, genocide, and rape. The exact antithesis of what the people was supposed to represent, “Love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev. 19:18)”
As I sit reflecting on these themes I cannot help seeing many of my interactions on social media over the last year. My two most popular blog posts (by a wide margin) were about Christians whose speech was as full of hatred and vile as anything I can expect to see in America, and directed toward other Christians. Recently, I posted Robb Ryerse’s Time article where where he laments the reactions he received to a previous post. In the article talks about the hatred expressed to him by Christians who disagree with him. The reaction I received from some “friends” was a 😆. I couldn’t help wondering what they had missed. I’m seeing a theme. Christians are speaking like any other group in our society and this is disturbing. We live in a culture in which we call one another “snowflakes” mockingly saying people cannot stand the heat. And here we have Christians who are taught to love the weak and build up the frail, pouring gasoline on the fire.
Unfortunately, the theme verse of Judges seems to be the theme verse of American Christians. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”
Consider the time frame of Judges, do you really think the people of Israel saw themselves as devaluing God– no. In some passages we are expressly told they worked evil despite an attempt to follow God. Some scholars even think the book was written because people in later times held a deluded notion that the time of the Judges was “The good old days”. Simply put Judges reflects a time in Israel’s history where people started looking inward for moral authority. There was token worship of the God who delivered them, but the people were unconcerned with that God. Consequently, the people were a loose connection of tribes, not a unified group marching with God (as is portrayed in Exodus- Deuteronomy).
American Christians are often the same way, giving token expression to the God of salvation, but looking inward (or worse to American culture) to dictate how we live and act in the world. Instead of uniting under the king who reminds us to speak lovingly even to our enemies; we call down curses on our brothers and sisters, or sit back and laugh while others do. Many who read this might think that I am attacking Trump supporters because of the association with Ryerse’s article, but truthfully I’ve been more ashamed by progressive Christians who preach unconditional love. Over the last year I have been appalled by Christians one many different sides who lash out at opponents (often fellow believers) because they dare to understand the world differently.
Two weeks ago this came to a head at the national prayer breakfast. Arthur Brooks gave a tremendous speech about moral courage and loving our political enemies. I know it was great because he quoted Jesus and the room fell silent. He spoke about the fact that we need to disagree about some ideas we need to see difficulties in this nation from many sides. But, we cannot allow that disagreement to devolve into hatred for our opponents. We cannot call ourselves Christians and sink to the level of the pagan world. Yet, here we are. We live in a land where hostility is the name of the game and Christians are just as likely to play and win.
I say it is time for us to recognize there is a king and that we must do what is right by his standards. And at least on this matter his standards are very clear, we must speak kindly to one another. We are always as Christians called to speak the truth, but there is a caveat, “speak the truth with love. (Eph. 4:15)” So please be gracious, instead of jumping on people you disagree with ask them why they hold the opinions the hold. Pursue a discussion which will end in love, not one which will end in hard feelings and hatred. Do not do as you see fit, rather, listen to the king and do as he does.