Division is a curse
Division has assaulted our culture in unprecedented ways. I haven’t lived forever, but I’ve never seen such depths of division, bitterness, and hatred. As we’ve read the headlines over the past few years, it’s clear that our divisiveness has become deadly.
We have been fractured and separated in ways that many of us never saw coming. The country seems to be split down the middle philosophically – with great rage.
I read about a counselor who was able to predict quite successfully whether or not a married couple could endure marital storms. The key word he used was disgust. When just one of the spouses had reached the point of thorough disgust, there was not much hope. I don’t remember ever sensing so much cultural disgust as we see now. We are disgusted and divided.
Division really is the curse of sin.
Unity is the image of God
The declaration of God’s people through the ages has been: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Central to the image of God is the unity of God. Father, Son, and Spirit – yet one. When we talk about justice, we often appeal to the doctrine of the image God. Every human possesses dignity because of the image we bear. One. We thrive when we are one. We have peace when we are one. We experience joy when we are one.
And when we’re fractured, we’re worse. Less healthy. More anxious. On edge. Looking over our shoulder.
There are clearly many justified reasons for disgust. But a global pandemic has accomplished an interesting feat. It has served to divide people like never before.
I’m afraid we’ve accepted as infallible a cliche repeated daily: The pandemic did not cause the divide, it just revealed a divide that was there all along. There is truth to that. But it’s also true that sometimes adversity weakens us. Worsens us. Divides us.
There were people in good physical shape before the pandemic who have now added their Covid-19 (pounds). People who used to read books who have drifted into social media sloth. Followers of Jesus who once delighted in Scripture who have not picked up a Bible in months.
The pandemic has done more than expose us; it has tested us. And sometimes we fail tests we could have passed. I haven’t heard this word used in a long time, but there really is such a thing as backsliding. I believe we are experiencing the effects of both unresolved darkness and injustice plus a fresh backsliding.
And yet Jesus’ clearest prayer was for the unity of His people.
Is unity really the answer?
Obviously, unity is a buzzword. The president repeated the word multiple times in his inaugural address. Churches are preaching it. Social media is trending around it. But do we even know what this means? Is unity really the answer?
Yes and no.
The apostle Paul told early Christians – riddled with ethnic and cultural division – to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) The unity of the Spirit.
To be sure, there are other unities. Just as Scripture contrasts godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. One leads to repentance and the other leads to shame.
Unity occurs when people come into agreement.
There was a true unity at the Tower of Babel, as humans rebelled against God’s mandate to disperse throughout the earth. They agreed that they could make their own way. They would decide what was right. They would define justice on their terms. But this was not the unity of the Spirit. It was something else.
We now hear this fresh call to unity all across the globe. But what this usually means is this. If you will agree with me, we can come together. We will accept you. We can accomplish great things. Like the Babylonians, we can build something great. The sky is the limit when we are one. But both Adolf Hitler and Abraham Lincoln leveraged the power of unity for very different purposes.
What kind of unity do we really need?
The secret to unity
Life-giving unity is not about getting humans to agree with other humans; it’s about getting humans to agree with God.
Unity cannot be about, “Do you agree with all my passions about Calvinism or liberalism or conservatism or socialism or nationalism or moralism or feminism?” Our narrow specialties neglect far too much of God’s heart. You can build a tribe with that narrow agreement. You can build a brand. You can write a book and make good money. But you will never be faithful to the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.
The unities I’m hearing on earth right now have the smell of Babel on them. In the book of Revelation Babel is described as the mother of prostitutes who seduces humanity in a couple of directions. On one hand this unified city normalizes sexual immorality. On the other it justifies unrestrained greed and luxury (Revelation 18:3). It’s like listening to the talking points of conservatives and liberals in our day. “Come unite with us. Sure we’re not perfect, but at least we’re not as bad as the other side.” But it’s like east and west Babel. It’s just different neighborhoods in the same city.
I hear people rightfully calling for deep repenting, lamenting, restitution and change.
Yes. Yes to calling for repenting and lamenting and change. But be careful if you’re only speaking truth to the powers on the east side of Babel, but you get strangely silent with the powers on the west side. Beware of the hypocrisy of refusing to unite with unrepentant liberals while simultaneously uniting with unrepentant conservatives. Or vice versa. I’m so glad God is more merciful than my social media feed.
So yes to unity. But if by unity, you expect me to overlook unrighteousness or injustice, I’m out. It’s Babel all over again. And in the end, Babel always comes crashing down – for it will not agree with God.
What does God say about sex and money? Immigrants and the unborn? Oppression and personal responsibility? Righteousness and justice? Because when you and I agree with God, now we have a shot with each other.
We’ve been more seduced than we realize.
And here is God’s call: “Come out of her My people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues.” (Rev. 18:4)
The unity of the Spirit is not a call to get humans to agree with humans; it’s the call to get humans to agree with God.
And that unity could change the world.
That will never happen, I hear. Don’t underestimate the power of a bloody cross and an empty tomb.