A World Divided
We live in a world divided. A nation divided. A church unfortunately divided. Lines are drawn everywhere separating people on the basis of any quality imaginable: nationality, class, ethnicity, political leanings, religion, income, and local. And behind each line, more lines are drawn splitting each group into smaller subgroups and subdivisions. Each subset of the whole promoting their own self-interest; each biting faction seeing the world through their own self oriented lens, alienating others in the process.
There are cops and there are blacks. There are Democrats and there are Republicans. There are urbanites and there are those from rural communities. There are Millennials and there are Baby Boomers.
But this is no surprise to us. This is the world we live in. The world we have always lived in.
Even if you were to go back to Jesus’ day, you would find the world still ripping itself to shreds of division. There were the oppressive pagan Romans ruling Israel with an iron fist. There were Hebrew zealots and there were Hebrews who just wanted to survive. Religiously there were the camps of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Ethnically there were Jews, Samaritans, and the larger unwashed Gentile masses; each hating and despising the other.
It was as divided then as it is now.
And if you go far enough back, all the way back to the beginning, you will find that division has been a byproduct of original sin—a fallen condition passed down through our lineage. Because of the fall in Genesis 3, Eve was cursed with a desire for her husband’s position, and Adam was cursed with a struggling rule over his wife. And just a chapter later, Cain’s jealousy of Abel and the murder that ensued is proof the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Humanity is cursed, and we are all formed by its defects.
But there is still hope for the fractioned and feuding. For liberals and conservatives. For minorities and majorities, just as there was hope for the Gentiles and Jews in Paul’s day. Jesus came to reverse the curse of the fall—the root from which all division stems. As the climax in the story of humanity, Jesus is the one who came to restore disunion, repairing both:
1) The vertical relationship (us and God)
2) The horizontal relationship (us and us)
This relationship renovation is further expounded on in Paul’s writing in Colossians 3, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
A little further Paul continues, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
Paul is saying that because of what Jesus Christ has done through his death and resurrection (taking our sin and paying its consequences) all those qualifiers that used to define us, those cultural identifiers that split us apart--now seem strangely insignificant. In light of the gospel inheritance for all of us, the immeasurable debt that was forgiven us, the eternal hope that awaits us--everything that used to be primary is now relegated to the background. How could it not?
When Christ reigns supreme there is no longer room for these earthly identities, for our life is now hidden with Christ in God. No political affiliation, no ethnic identity, no earthly status could ever compare to the renewed identity we have in Him.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit a church in Belem, Brazil. We met one night in a small home packed with Brazilian believers. I didn’t know the guy who was sitting next to me. To this day I do not even remember his name. We were not able to communicate with each other, and even if we could I can’t imagine that we would have had much to say as we did not have the first thing in common. But this man put his arm around me and invited me in with a big smile. And we worshiped Jesus together (in different languages) and we prayed together (in different languages). And I remember feeling closer to him than many of my own blood relatives. Why? Because he is my brother, and there is a unity in Christ that nothing in this world can match.
We live in divisive times, but they are not all that much different from any other time. Let us not forget to keep our secondary qualifiers secondary, not allowing them to deviate our focus from the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. And as we set our hearts on things above, may those cultural barriers and chalk-drawn boundaries grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
It is my prayer that a shattered world will see our unity, and discover that there may be something to this Jesus after all.
“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:22-23