I, like most humans, tend to see everything as black or white, all or nothing. It’s obvious in politics: red state vs. blue state, Republican or Democrat. Advertising forces it on our lifestyle choices: Coke or Pepsi, Mac vs. PC. No middle position. No common ground.
As Christians, we even use verses to back up our positions, no matter which side of an issue we support. It’s liberal vs. evangelical, simplicity gospel vs. prosperity gospel, spending life enjoying all of God’s good gifts (materialism) vs. giving our lives away in service.
It’s easy to see how we end up this way. The extremes are easier to define and, thus, easier to defend. When I support a position that is on the far side of an issue, I know exactly what I am for and what I am against. Think Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
With a single battle cry, I can quickly rally people to my cause. And for a little added fun, I can use caricature and hyperbole to demonize those on the other side. I know who the enemy is and even quote the words of Jesus to identify them: “He who is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30).
Let’s Swing Together
As followers, we are also drawn to the extremes. Like moths to the light, we flitter around dogmatic leaders who advocate a certain position. We gravitate to messengers who are sure of themselves, who have every conceivability in its proper cubbyhole. It feels less dangerous somehow. Any uncertainty in those calling the shots makes us nervous. If they are not 100 percent certain, how do we know we are listening to the right leader?
And that’s what we desire—the right leader. We make the initial decision to join this army, but then we want someone else to make the battle decisions, to devise the plan. Ultimately, we look for the easy way, the way of not thinking. The old adage, “Ours is not to wonder why; ours is just to do or die,” fits our Christianity too. Give us a take-charge guy who knows exactly what should be done, how we are to live each day. We’re content when he issues orders firmly and clearly.
Why? Because clear-cut rules are easier to obey. Even if the instructions themselves are difficult—sell everything, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus, for instance—there is no indecisiveness about what it means. When the lines are drawn, there’s no need to seek guidance from the Spirit of God, certainly no need to wrestle with him. We can mindlessly obey, like a faithful border collie, and not have to figure out any of the big issues for ourselves.
It’s safer to follow another’s lead. If it doesn’t work out, it’s his fault not ours. We were just following; we can’t be blamed for heading in the wrong direction. There’s anonymity in being part of the crowd. We like not being held responsible.
But that’s not God’s way for us. Although we are called children of God, we are admonished not to stay children in our thinking but to grow up. Paul told the Ephesian believers to “become mature.” When that occurred, they would “no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching.” The goal, Paul said, was for believers to “grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:13–15).
Being a grown-up means taking responsibility, living independently. In the Christian life, it’s living independent of man’s dictates and totally at the direction of the Spirit, our indwelling source of wisdom. We are still part of Christ’s body, and therefore interdependent, but he is to be the only head.
Just because the eyes have a better view than the kneecaps, doesn’t mean they get to tell the knees what to do. Because eyes are only eyes, they would likely tell the kneecaps to do something eye-like, something knees are not designed for. That’s why being a grown-up part of Christ’s body means listening to the head, being who God created us to be, and serving the function he designed us for.
(Excerpt from my unpublished book, I’m No Mother Teresa. You can find more by putting “Mother Teresa” in the search box on the blog.)