We do not disagree about everything. We agree about the things that make it possible to call us by one name, “Christians.” But we argue about a great many things. Serious disagreements between friends are unpleasant, and sometimes I wonder why God allows them.
Sometimes I think we should just fix it. Why not shorten the ceremonial laws in Leviticus and clarify the issues that divide us?
Yet this longing for plain answers is misplaced. Even if everything God said were plain, we would still stand in conflict with it and each other. God plainly says He hates injustices done to the poor, yet plenty of Christians have found ways of getting around the simple truth. God hates divorce, but Christians still split, sometimes for trivial reasons.
No divine command is so clear and no behavior is so self-evidently stupid that humans cannot talk themselves into it. We often do talk ourselves into them. Take willful barrenness, for example. Whole nations have now quit having enough children, but they do not seem terrifically concerned about the inevitable result. They would do well to remember the Shakers, who planned barren-hood, and are now no more. Western Europe is in danger of becoming as barren as Shakers in the name of an ethical system that allows them to be Hedonists. They’ll just go extinct at their own party.
It is simply true that there are some issues on which Scripture is obscure, and that Christian friendships have been, are, and will be strained as a result, until Jesus comes. Some people wrongly pretend that these divisive issues do not matter, but, at least in the short term, they inevitably do.
All Christians believe in universal health care, for example, but disagree vehemently about how to get it. Some argue for private solutions, some for a mix of government and private, and others for a government that is solely responsible to solve the problem. Presently traditional Christians can be found with nearly every view. And now, in the short term, we have to care about it, because liberty, health, charity, and humanity all seem to be endangered if we get the answer wrong. The arguments, therefore, are fierce and must be fierce, because something is at stake worth hard words.
But though the words are hard, blows or unfair play need not follow. Churchmen learned the hard way that imposing truth by force is a matter of last resort. In general, we prefer to lose an argument rather than to win it by killing our foe. It is the glory of Jewish and Christian civilizations that we have learned that “love your neighbor” includes your intellectual enemy. (It is also the shame of Jewish and Christian civilizations that it took us so long.)
Differences should, in fact, become a school for our minds. God allows disagreement in order to grow us up to become fit rulers for Paradise. He refuses to give easy answers, but demands that we glory in seeking out the answers. That is why the Scriptures are sometimes obscure. It is the mark of the king, the Bible plainly says, to seek out truth. And God would make every Christian a king or queen: a seeker of truths.
Some family members and I have serious disagreements about the meaning of Scripture. Some friends and I disagree about the next presidential election. I care about the answers and stake my life on my proposed solutions, but that does not prevent me from loving my family and friends.
Love covers a multitude of sins, even intellectual ones. It isn’t good to be wrong and being wrong can carry serious consequences, but damnation is not one of them. Being right about every important thing does not, after all, save us. Jesus does.
Jesus watches us grow up intellectually and, like a good older brother, will guide us without just telling us all the plain answers.