"Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father." -- 1 John 2:24
It is easy to get off-track when it comes to faith. Especially if we explore our faith to any degree, or explore the faith of other people. Certainly, figuring out what we believe and what other people believe can be a very positive, life-enriching experience, which I highly recommend. Yet, there is one very significant drawback that comes when you really begin to think about your faith and compare it to the faith of other people: you begin to see where you think differently from other people. Now, this is not such an unfortunate awareness to have -- it is a fact: we do all think differently from each other. But this can lead to difficulties if we get bogged down in the differences. For, the differences will separate us, if we let them.
I discovered this when I first started to explore my faith. I was faced with a multitude of varying, even contradictory, beliefs. So many different Christian denominations claim to have exclusive rights to The Truth -- and yet they are all different from each other. So many different non-Christian faiths also claim to have exclusive rights to The Truth -- with the same result. Even within my single Lutheran denomination, there are differences of opinion about very significant matters. "So, what is The Truth?!!" I wanted to know.
In an effort to try to sort through all of these differences, I studied the teachings of Jesus. And what did I learn? I learned that the most important belief, the most important doctrine, the most important commandment is this: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all
your soul, and with all your mind." And, what is just like it: "You shall
love your neighbor as yourself.'" All of Jesus' other teachings were elaborations on these two commandments. And everything that aggravated Jesus went against these two commandments.
I understand how these two commandments are really one and the same. The more I grow to love God, the more I feel God pointing me to my neighbor. I could not love God, without loving my neighbor. I could not truly love my neighbor, if I did not love God with all my being. This one commandment in two parts, or two commandments, if you prefer, is all that we need to know and all that we need to live by. All we need ever do is test our understanding against these two commandments, and throw out that which is irrelevant, or contrary to them. This is The Truth. Oddly enough, all Jews, all Christians, and all Muslims agree that these are the most important commandments. Unfortunately, not everyone actually emphasizes them. Instead, we get bogged down in our differences.
I once tried to tell a pastor this, that differences of opinion do not matter. This pastor had a different understanding of human sexuality and a different way of interpreting the Bible than me. I said that I didn't think either difference should be the cause of separation. For to me, separating oneself from another was the greater problem: that was not loving your neighbor as yourself. It was actually harmful. I did not understand why our mutual love for God and Christ could not serve to bind us together more than whatever separated us. However, this pastor could not believe it was as simple as that. Which is why we divided. Which is why all churches divide. And why some denominations or sects claim
an exclusive in-road to God. They cannot love the one who thinks so
differently from them as much as they love themselves. They cannot follow that most basic commandment.
Unfortunately, now, I am running into this problem again. I thought I had it down pat, but once again, I am getting bogged down in differences of opinion. Once again I've been trying to figure out what is right when it comes to differing opinions in matters of faith. Only now, I am in a leadership role. Now I am a teacher of our high school youth, and a leader of our adult education programs. It would be very easy for me to think that I have all of the answers -- that my opinion is the right opinion -- that I need to point out the errors in other people's thinking about God, and the Bible, and Jesus, etc.
But over and over again, God has been cautioning me, and reminding me. No one has all of the answers. Each one of us sees through a glass darkly. If I think otherwise, if I tell other people that their understanding is wrong, I would be the one causing a problem. Truly, differing opinions on side issues do not matter. The only thing that matters is that we love God, and we love our neighbor as ourselves. That means loving the one who thinks differently than I do. That is what I learned in the beginning. That is what is most important. This is what I need to practice and teach.
So, increasingly, I'm wondering what good can come from learning about established church doctrine or theological matters that only seem to highlight our differences from each other. These kinds of classes only seem to take us further and further away from loving all our neighbors as ourselves.
Instead, I wonder what it would look like if ideas were discussed in a way in which every person's opinion was welcomed and valued equally and humbly. I wonder what it would look like if no one felt superior or inferior to anyone else. I wonder what it would look like if we all were open to learning from each other, to asking our questions, and sharing our answers with each other as equals. Perhaps it would look like a priesthood of believers, or a brotherhood of saints. Perhaps it would feel a little bit like heaven.
Dear God, please keep me mindful of what is most important. Help me to sort through my difficulties in this matter and find the straight path through to you. Love always, Pam