We are a diverse group of people who inhabit this earth. Even if you were to look at your city or church or employment, we are becoming an increasingly dissimilar people there too. We are diverse in our appreciation of the arts, our food preferences, and the movies we watch. Even things like skin color, education, or degree of sophisticated thinking could be lumped in with this list of superficial yet real layers of diversity. But what makes us incredibly different is the basic tenets of life and faith to which we firmly hold. In these areas we sometimes become at opposites with one another over deeply engrained and staunchly defended beliefs and ways of viewing the world. In these vital, life-view areas we become to each other: hot and cold, wet and dry, black and white, left and right, and sometimes upside down. How in the world are we to live in harmony with one another?
One of the inspirational stories to come out in the aftermath of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was his close friendship with Justice Ruth Ginsburg. With regard to their interpretation of law, they were often polar opposites, the real “odd couple.” But with regard to the bond they felt with each other they were in their own words, “best buddies.” They shared a common love for the constitution but their interpretation of that law was oh so very oppositional. In the context of their completely diverse view of law, their personal friendship was evidently as deep and profound as it was unexpected.
Sometimes opposite forces or beliefs are actually quite complementary to each other in nature. Surely, you have observed this in your own life where two people in a relationship, though seemingly opposite actually complement each other well. It is the “unity of opposites” proposed by Heraclitus in the 5th century BC. We see a similar vein of thought in Paul’s personal approach to conflict:
“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)
The idea of unity in diversity is found also in Paul’s description of the “body” of Christ, that is the group of followers who are unified in devotion to Christ, yet so diversified in their expression of that devotion! We have different roles and gifts, different personalities and strategies, but we are called to be unified with a common purpose, to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. . . Not for the sake of diversity, but for the sake of the gospel.
It’s a challenge though, isn’t it? Don’t we often prefer to hang out with like minded people who share our interests, views and approaches? That’s a temptation that allows us to stay in our comfort zones. But learning to live with those who share diverse views is the stuff that makes for an increasingly mature Christian life. Jesus was criticized for spending time with outcasts and sinners. Yet it was to these he was called. In Mark 2:17 he is recorded to,say, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
How about you and me? If I were to stand only with those who agreed with everything I believed, I might find myself standing alone! For sure, we will encounter difference in views, even among believers. Sometimes you find yourself deeply loving someone…except for the times you want to strangle them! But we persevere with each other even as Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those in authority (even if we disagree with them).
How do we demonstrate such certain unity in our lives? How do we learn to live in harmony with each other? Perhaps we could start with the humility that recognizes “I don’t have the complete understanding of all things.” As a husband was backing the car out of the drive his wife next to him kept repeating, “I can see the mailbox.” He replied, “Yes, I see it too….” until he ran over the mailbox. As we learn to listen to the perspective of others we increase our own perspective of things. As Justice Ginsburg reflected on a case where she and Scalia disagreed she acknowledged that while his views “ruined my weekend, they improved the product.” We must be willing to listen to those who disagree with us if we truly want the best solution.
And even when you have convinced yourself you absolutely know that you are right about a specific matter, the more important relationship is strengthened when we recognize the right of the other person to hold a contrary position. We learn to be agreeable in our disagreements. It’s called respect.
Be the peacemaker God wants you to be, especially among other believers. Be willing to embrace others even if you don’t embrace their beliefs. Pursue unity even when unanimity is not possible.
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18