Existing in Faithful Peace
By Anthony Casperson
In popular western culture, we’ve seen a rise of the attitude of “tolerance.” This call of saying whatever people do and believe is okay, as long as they don’t hurt anybody along the way. In this case, the definition of “hurt” includes calling into question the goodness of a person’s beliefs and actions. Thus, any act of “intolerance” is outside of acceptable tolerant actions.
Media and entertainment propagate this attitude of tolerance. “Can’t we all just coexist?” they cry out. Just agree to disagree and move on.
For followers of Jesus who hold the Truth of God closely, this can be a difficult minefield to navigate. Especially when part of God’s call in our lives is to spread his truth to those who don’t yet accept it. Can we live in a non-antagonistic manner with people who disagree with our beliefs, even to the point of acting in opposition to us, and still be faithful to what God has called us to do?
Throughout the history of Christianity, this question has been answered in many various ways. And the whole topic is far greater than anything I’d want to write for a post here. But I want to at least broach the topic because of our tendency as followers of Jesus to end up nearing one end or the other of the spectrum.
On the one side of the spectrum, some try to excise themselves from anything ungodly. If it’s “of the world” they want nothing to do with it. “You believe god is a giant pixie, and our universe is nothing more than a mote of pixie dust emanating from it? Well, you’re stupid and wrong. And I’m not going to have anything to do with you anymore.”
On the other side, some try to live in this “tolerant” attitude. “Let people believe what they want. It’ll be sorted out in the end anyway.” Often, on this end, God’s Truth gets lost in the pursuit of tolerance.
I believe that the Truth of the bible should lead us in our understanding. So, rather than arguing the epistemological philosophies (systems of belief), let’s see a little bit about what God says about the topic. How closely can followers of Jesus relate with those who are not his followers? And what does it mean to be faithful to God in these relationships?
One favorite verse for some when it comes to this topic is 2 Cor. 6:14. It says not to be “yoked together” with unbelievers. Typically, this is applied to marital relationships, saying that a follower of Jesus shouldn’t marry an unbeliever. Though it can be applied to many different kinds of obligated partnerships.
Other verses seem to go even further, saying to have nothing to do with various types of sinful people. Proverbs 4:14-15 says to avoid the path of the wicked. And Psalm 1 is all about the blessing of delighting in God’s word rather than walking in the counsel of the wicked.
Looking at John 15:19, we see Jesus saying that the world (those who aren’t his followers) will hate those of us who do belong to him. And this hate will come from the fact that he chose us out of the world.
Though up until now it seems that there’s reason for separatism, there are other verses that seem to show some closeness. One such passage is Rom. 12:17-18. Verse 18 is the more well-known verse saying to “live at peace with all,” as much as we are able. Though others might deny us the life of wholeness with all people that we are to seek, we are still to seek it.
But verse 17 shows us even more. It says to consider what is good before all people. One possible translation can even be, “Respect what is praiseworthy in the judgement of all people.” How can we know what is praiseworthy in the eyes of those who disagree with us if we don’t have some sort of understanding of their perspective? And that can only come through spending time with them.
So, which way is it? Are we to avoid those who aren’t followers of Jesus? Or are we to seek to incorporate ourselves in their lives? Well, I think there are two more passages that can help us come to see that there’s a middle ground in the spectrum for us to land on.
The first passage is 1 Peter 2:11-12. “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
We followers of Jesus are called to abstain from the sinfulness of this world. We’re not to avoid the people who fall victim to the sinfulness, but rather avoid the sinfulness itself. And this better explains the Psalms and Proverbs passages above. Both of them speak of avoiding the path and counsel of the wicked, not the people themselves.
As a matter of fact, the 1 Peter passage here says that our way of life as we live among those who aren’t followers of Jesus (called “Gentiles” in the verse) is to be honorable. We have to interact with people in order for them to experience our way of life. Sure, some will still be antagonistic toward us, but our conduct among them is to be so honorable that it undoes their antagonism, possibly even to the point of becoming a follower of Jesus themselves.
And the second passage is Eph. 6:12. Our war isn’t against the people of the world, but against the spiritual forces of wickedness. The people who disagree with us are not our enemy, even if they are antagonistic toward us. The war that we as followers of Jesus are a part of is a spiritual one.
We are to seek wholeness for every person around us. We’re to respect them as the beings made in the image of God that they are. Anything short of that is ungodly on our part. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t share the Truth of God with them. Our words and our conduct should show them the full extent of the love of God for all humanity.
We can exist in peace with those who disagree with us while still being faithful to the Truth of God and sharing it with them. We are ambassadors of peace seeking to reconcile those who aren’t followers of Jesus with God. Our neighbors, friends, co-workers, family members, and any other human being who isn’t a follower of Jesus are not our enemies.
Disagreements will happen in our systems of belief, even about what is right and wrong. But that doesn’t negate our calling to exist in faithful peace with all people.