“Well, that’s kind of personal, don’t you think?” I said slowly. “But I’ll tell you what my values are: I value honesty. I value respect. I value a moral life. And, among other things, I believe in doing what we can to help the disadvantaged and disenfranchised and others who may be held down by circumstances beyond their control. I believe in helping those who are fleeing violence in their own countries, or even just looking for a better life for their families. I love our planet; and believing in science, I want us all, in whatever capacity, on a personal or national level, to start taking better care of it. And the pandemic we are in emphasizes the need that everyone who needs medical care should be able to see a doctor.”
As I spoke, I was noticing a guardedness and distrustfulness coming over their faces. Clearly, for some reason, I was making them feel uncomfortable. What?! Aren’t those values that all my godly, church-going neighbors should hold dear? Whether friends or family, or merely casual acquaintances, if we don’t hold the values in common that betters the whole human family, do we really have anything of consequence binding us together? If we are not working toward the common goal of lifting up “the least of these,” do we really have anything to share with our unchurched friends and family? How are we fulfilling the truth and purpose for which God set us in this world? And how can we fulfill Christ’s commission to take the gospel to the world and merit His approval, when it’s all said and done, if we have a religion that is exclusionary of the most needy?
Connection and Division
The past year of social isolation, necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has caused me, as it has many, to search for ways to remain connected to those we love. Doing so, for me, had already been made difficult by the prevailing political division of the previous few years, a crisis brought on, in part, by the rejection of the American value of welcoming immigrants and refugees, by the racial divide, and by the steep decline of truth in the interest of political power; and that, not only of civic and national leaders, but in the religious world, as well. The alliance of those within my own church with the cause of white evangelicals of passing legislation favoring a misguided and apostate Christianity is alarming.
Having been given the opportunity and the permission to exhibit some of the worst instincts of the unsanctified human nature, many chose to let go all restraint and, in doing so, laid bare a fundamental fault line into which a very many of our neighbors, family, and fellow church members have stumbled. Or, in some cases, it would seem, they have chosen such a course preferentially. I was on a long road trip a couple years ago with a family member, someone active and a leader in their church, when they stated that immigrants should be shot as they come across the border. I was so taken aback by this pronouncement, I didn’t think to ask if they would be willing to pull the trigger. It was just as well to let it go, because we still had a long way to travel together.
Social media has been a factor in causing some formerly close ties to be broken. I have been attacked, in personal ways, by long-time friends and fellow church members, just for speaking up for the children and parents at the southern border, that we should treat them in a Christlike manner, giving them clean water to drink. Others have made the argument that it’s necessary to treat them badly, or this country would be overrun by those not like us. But, thankfully, this crisis of morals has brought some of us closer together, even though having never met in person.
A lack of ability to recognize, or of having any interest in impartially seeking truth has led to alienation in many formerly close circles. In earlier, less polarized times, I felt a comfort in meeting, studying, and praying with my church family. I felt in one accord with them, believing we were all seeking the truth of Jesus, who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Seeking a closer walk with the embodiment of truth, it will naturally follow that we will come closer to recognizing truth. Pilate, at the sham trial of Jesus, asked the question, “What is truth?” but turned away before receiving an answer. The answer would not have fitted with his ambition of retaining and strengthening his political power. That, it would seem, is still the reason many are embracing the rampant lies and conspiracy theories so prevalent everywhere one turns.
I’m looking forward to looking backward on the COVID pandemic, although I am feeling a lot of uncertainty about how my life will change after having become so accustomed to more than a year of isolation. I have learned a lot about staying in touch and strengthening relationships with acquaintances in my community that were flagging and could have, maybe, died away without my making extra efforts to reach out to them.
Taking them homemade baked goods and standing outside their doors, talking about our lives in a changed world, and encouraging them to keep trusting in the Lord, has blessed me also, in more ways than one. These precious people have also been added to my prayer list. Could this perhaps be one reason God has allowed this disease to sweep the world, to see who would direct their gaze away from themselves and share Him with others—He who is the only standard for truth in a world built on a crumbling infrastructure of lies?
Where Does One Turn?
Where does one turn when this pandemic subsides and it’s finally relatively safe to worship corporately again? I am fortunate to live in a part of the country easily accessible to wild, natural areas, and have been spending Sabbaths meeting with my Creator in His outdoor cathedral, rain or shine, cold or heat. Meeting alone with God in nature can attune our hearts to hear Him speak His love to us; it’s invigorating to one’s relationship with Him.
But meeting with His other like-minded children and coming into accord with a family of believers is a command (Hebrews 10:25) and an important part of spiritual growth, as we draw closer to Jesus’ second coming. It’s meant to be a source of strengthening to us as we see that day approaching. But, and I know I’m not alone in this, how does one come into accord with those who seem to have been unwilling to seek out truth and, in fact, have made lies a weapon to discourage unity of faith?
The One Who Is Truth
In this post-truth era, I have more questions than answers in plotting my way forward. I know only one standard for truth, and that is the One who is the Truth. To look upon Him, to study His attributes of love toward all, to cooperate with Him in His efforts to teach me to emulate His character, is the one true way forward. I simply pray for faith to follow. And where such a course will take me, I cannot see the way, but I have confidence that where it leads me in the end is exactly where I eternally long to be.
Sylvia Sioux Stark writes from Tennessee.
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