Friday, January 15, 2010

To Compromise or Not

No peace is possible without compromise. We tend to reject the idea of compromising our values, or the truths to which we cling, therefore peace with evil seems unlikely. But are there times when two people disagree over what truth is, when a compromise might be the best solution? Fundamentalists think not. Extremists think not. Where should the servants of God fall in this area?

The problem with truth is our own tendency to try to define it in absolute terms. Our desire is to remove any gray area and force truth to be presented in clear black-and-white terms. We expect truth to be simple, childlike, and easy enough to be understood. Yet how quickly we dismiss simple truth, as too simplistic; take for example the phrase “God is Love”. We refuse to accept this simple truth as all-encompassing, but treat it merely as a partial definition of what God truly “is”. Yet we are completely unable to define “Love” or “God” in absolute terms. We have a great deal of knowledge about both, but with all our combined wisdom, we remain fools. Christians argue about the definition of truth with the world, and worse, with each other. We try to enforce our understanding of truth on each other, and claim this as our obligation. Yet when Christ gave his final command to His followers before leaving for heaven, He simply directed we “love each other”. The world would recognize us as His followers if we adhere to this simple directive. He did not say to us “expound truth”. Rather the Holy Spirit would “reveal” truth to us as our humility increased and we became ready to receive it. Only the proud believe they “know” absolute truth.

The Pharisees in the time of Christ were such devout, serious, religious leaders. They were proud of their traditions, created to insure they would be unable to break God’s law again and suffer another exile to a foreign land. They setup lists of do’s and don’ts trying to guard against infringement of the law. But to no avail. In talking about the simple truth “thou shalt not commit adultery” – the wisdom of the day interpreted this as do not have sexual expression with a married person (whether you are married or not). This is in fact a very strict definition or interpretation of this precept. It is so strict in fact, that it ignores many other related issues attacking the minds of the people both then and now. Christ elaborated on this truth when He said, “I tell you that if you look at another woman and lust after her, you have already committed adultery in your mind”. This additional insight into the truth addressed the motives we carry in our hearts and minds. As it happens our motives, imaginations and thoughts are as much to be addressed by this precept as our actual actions. Was the first interpretation wrong? No. It was simply incomplete. The Pharisees were proud of their religious fervor, and did not take it well to be corrected by this author of the Law.

Christians read these passages in the New Testament and denigrate the Pharisees as too proud, arrogant, and full of themselves. The same Christians then turn right around and commit the same acts, in the same way, and choose to be totally ignorant of their own faults – despite having just read the example of the Pharisees of old. We make fun of them; then imitate them word-for-word. How is it different for us to claim to have absolute knowledge of truth, than it was for the learned Pharisees of the day of Christ? In fact, the Pharisees did have “an” understanding of truth. But they did not complete the knowledge. Are we any different? We judge so often and forgive so little. We strive for justice and equality more than accepting a lesser portion, or an unfair result, in order to love our offender. We very seldom turn the other cheek, and instead punch with the other fist. The world may be at war with us. But why do we choose to go to war with it? The unenlightened are not our enemies, they are our family. Those that do not accept the beauty of the truth of Christ are not swine. They are you and I at a different stage of our lives. Were it not for the mercy of God, that person you despise for not accepting truth might well be you.

Christians would have less cause to compromise with each other, if they had more humility and willingness to learn in their understanding of truth. Perhaps heaven is big enough to accept an entirely different kind of Christian than you are today. Perhaps the changes you are so keenly aware of that “need” to take place in another person’s life, will wind up taking place in yours. After all, if you truly allow the Holy Spirit to lead you into ALL truth, then He will. It may not be others who change as a result, it may be you. This growth is so often blocked by our own mix of pride, tradition, and understanding of truth. Maybe it is we who need to “unlearn what we have learned”. How much deeper could be our understanding of even basic truths if we did not so casually dismiss the need to study further since we already know about them? We think we have all the knowledge we need about a particular topic and dismiss the need to know more. This was the arrogance of the Pharisees and it is our arrogance as well.

The Martyrs of old set an example for us we tend to be so reluctant to imitate. They did NOT compromise their faith, or the truths they clung to. Not even in word (all they had to do to save themselves was lie about what they believed) or deed. But they did not disobey the laws either. They lived under the laws of the land. When those laws became in conflict with their faith, they chose to remain faithful to their faith. But this faithfulness to God was accompanied by NON-violent behavior. They made no wars to enforce their beliefs. They did not seek to have violence come to them, but when it did, they faced it with quiet dignity. Sometimes martyrs sang hymns of praise to God while being tortured by their enemies. They made no compromise with evil, but made no violence against the unrepentant. They loved their enemies enough not to try to kill their way out of danger. Instead they prayed for their captors.

Those Christians who advocate violence do dishonor to their Lord. They resemble more the ranks of the fundamentalists around the world who have embrace violence as the solution to their issues. Violence has a long history of resolving nothing. Rather it inspires generations and generations to come to follow its addictive precepts. Revenge is never fully satisfied. Peace is never achieved. Learning to allow the differences of others to exist in your world is the beginning of productive compromise. This tolerance is the beginning of understanding between two people otherwise at odds. Understanding then enhances truth. It is a beginning…

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