“The eternal law of righteousness ordains that he who will not submit to God’s sweet rule shall suffer the bitter tyranny of self. But he who wears the easy yoke and light burden of love (Matthew 11:30) will escape the intolerable weight of his own self-will.”
~Bernard of Clairvaux
In the contemporary day there is all sense of fogginess over diametrically opposed issues in the ethical sphere: same-sex marriage; abortion; whistle-blowing websites on paedophilia; pornography in society etc. Commonly, people diverge. They take a view, having considered sides of the argument-in-question, and commit to a decision.
It may be the prerogative of a human being to do this, to form an opinion, but it’s where those opinions take us that are the key issues. Where a person feels they are destined, and where they actually end up can be two different things.
The brokenness in our humanity wants us, in our opinion, vindicated—even despite truth. Yes, we can lose all objectivity when we are fighting a cause.
Wisdom doesn’t give us such control over the universe to have an opinion—that’s God’s prerogative; all humankind should listen.
But we invariably don’t. We will, in clinging to our opinion, therefore, be consigned to that undignified place of personal misery—to battle the “bitter tyranny of self.”
There is little wonder that the world looks on at the opinionated Christian, and the side-taking church, and is sickened by such pigheaded self-righteousness and relative social ambivalence over other issues, particularly those closer to home.
Where Both Sides Are Wrong
I observed a debate recently—one I shan’t name here, for the purpose of focus on this particular matter—where both sides were wrong. Not that their positions were wrong, per se, but the way they argued led them to the wanton acceptance of, and even revelry in, their sin.
These are so-called Christian people; believers, apparently, in the Lord Jesus; subject to him, supposedly.
Two ideas cannot coexist: to be staunchly self-opinionated and, simultaneously, be under Christ’s Lordship. The former, however, is frequently veiled in an often misused term, “advocacy.” True advocacy, though, cannot occur without much effort toward universal deference.
Why Fighting Won’t Work
Here is why fighting ethical issues is destined for communal disaster:
While many fight a fair fight, tackling the issue and not the person, some will not; many will ultimately allow their own unresolved hurts, or their lack of capacity to absorb hurts, to colour their responses.
For ten people responding in mature ways, there will always be one person ready and willing to fight an unfair fight, jeopardising the whole process.
Righteousness—Bernard of Clairvaux’s keyword—is not found in fighting ugly, but in submitting to the Lord Jesus, so that we would be relieved of our self-will. Then we might see more clearly (Matthew 7:1-5).
Fighting the good fight of faith is doing what we can under the Lordship of Christ, believing always that God is in control.
Satan’s Field Day
The angels of darkness and the masquerader of light must verily kiss their bliss in delight when Christian people argue with one another, in great and highly visible groups, vilifying each other over polarised ‘biblical’ views.
Satan’s field day is the modern day, and every modern day of history, wherever people are prepared to sacrifice the Kingship of Christ for the luxury of an opinion—whether biblical or not. (Just because something is ‘biblical’ doesn’t mean we can fight dirty.)
The prince of this world is insidiously adept at pointing the Bible against us. And, unfortunately, we are commonly duped.
There is a better way.
What we really need is the non-opinionated reality of a God encounter.
As the Spirit invades our lives at the point of encounter we are stripped of desire to warrant the opinion; a simple obedience, consequently, seems perfectly appropriate.
Encountering God is the confirmation of consummate care—for every other human being, the planet, history; the significance of everything. Encountering God proves how small we are and how big God is—that we will never quite know enough to validate the majority of things we might form opinions about.
We should be guarded about our opinions; for we never know how they, one day, might turn against us and, even worse, against the purposes of God.
God’s test in ethical arguments is righteousness, not self-righteousness. It warns us to conform our thoughts to Christ. Is there anything worse than a self-righteous, religiously-zealous Christian? Yet, Christ died for them, too. Let’s not forget, God’s above our ethics. Righteousness is the only thing required of us—to bring glory to God.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.