Knock Before Entering

Preface

Before you dive into the following essay, I’d like to state my intentions for the reader. I want to challenge the way that we communicate with one another, and I do this knowing full well that I wrestle with the very issues I address.

The questions I ask are for everyone, but much of the content specifically addresses the attitudes of those who identify as Christians, or followers of Jesus.

For those who identify with a different worldview, I sincerely hope that you stay with me to the end.

When communicating to the general public, it’s impossible to know our exact audience, so I try to share art and ideas that are relatable for most everyone, regardless of their views. This is the beauty of art. It creates space for the audience to insert themselves into the story and connect with the pains and joys of the characters, and with the artist. You could say that art allows the artist to have a conversation with several people all at once. And that’s what I want to do — have conversations.

It is only through conversations that we can begin to understand the perspectives of others in order to communicate with them the way that art does. Art dives deep into the heart, and quickly. With traditional conversation, it takes much longer, and more trust, to speak to someone’s heart. The problem is, most of us are too impatient to hang around long enough to build this kind of trust with others. Instead, when we decide to share our faith or opinions, the temptation is to keep a safe distance and lead with pointed statements and scriptures that are often confusing and hurtful without the proper context.

I know this from experience. I have been both the guilty party and the victim of such tactics. So when it comes to sharing something as sensitive as faith online, I’m constantly seeking creative ways of doing so through illustration and poetry. I find that’s the closest I can come to having a personal, heartfelt conversation with a stranger.

Which brings me to the subject I am presenting in the following pages. You may ask why, in this case, I have chosen to share my thoughts and faith in such a direct way? And to that I say, it is because I have recently noticed a chasm growing between the words of Christ and the way I see many within the Church representing him online. It’s a chasm that I feel compelled to point out for two reasons: 1. In order remind those who follow Christ, myself included, of the way he has called us to live and 2. To hopefully help correct the view that those not holding the faith may have formed of Him based on the careless words and actions performed by others in his name.

In the midst of my own thoughts I include for you the words of Christ. I believe his words serve as a beacon of light calling us back to love, so that we may gain a better understanding, a greater respect, and a deeper love for one another.

Sincerely, Nathan

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.
 And be thankful. (Colossians 3:12–15)

Knock Before Entering

Many hot topics have been stoked to roaring fires in the past year or so. Whether it be politics, gay marriage, gun control, issues of race, or immigration, now more than ever, it seems, people are eager to categorize each other into parties of “right” and “wrong.” If we stop and look, we find that most of these heated conversations happen online. Of course they do. We live in a digital age when we can hide our faces behind a screen and throw opinions from the shadows farther and at more people than ever before. But as our reach expands and we grow increasingly familiar with digital communication, I suggest we take a closer look at how social media has changed the way we interact with others, then ask ourselves whether or not we’ve forgotten our deepest calling: to love each other well.

To unpack this idea, allow me start with a metaphor.

If we were to walk into someone’s home, unwarranted, and immediately begin criticizing the way they run their household, how do you think they would react? I imagine they would become defensive and lash out. They probably wouldn’t entertain a word, and instead, show us to the door. Their home has been built by years of experiences and lessons different from our own, taught by those whom they love and respect. So wouldn’t it be ridiculous to barge in and start spilling opinions on everything we find wrong with their household, without making any effort to know them, learn about their experiences, and discover the reasons for their beliefs?

That’s what online conversations often look like. I’ve done it myself, communicating blindly to those who do not share the same faith or perspective. It’s almost as though we totally forget that the person to whom we’re speaking is a human being capable of feeling joy, pain, love, and sadness. Online we begin communicating in a tone that we would never use in person. I should hope not at least. As a follower of Christ, the last thing I want to represent is carelessness with others.

Believers in Jesus tend to be really good at explaining the word of God but not so great at communicating it with love. We have to remember that Christ, our example, was “full of [both] grace and truth” (John 1:14) and we should be working to maintain that same balance. This can be difficult because in our culture, we equate the accumulation of Truth, or knowledge, to the accumulation of power. Power fuels our egos while our insecurities tell us to fight to the top, to strive for importance in the eyes of others. The more educated we become about scripture, or anything else for that matter, the greater our proficiency in diagnosing people’s errors on the topic, and sadly, the worse we might become at having heartfelt conversations. But when we stop asking questions we cease to be relatable. After all, who wants to talk to someone who thinks they have it all figured out? And who will ever have it all figured out?

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. (1 Corinthians 3:18)

I think people generally have humanity’s best interests in mind and are fighting to improve the welfare of society in their own way, even if their way may be corrupt. Even the people in Christ’s day genuinely perceived Jesus to be a threat to the faith that they had grown up with (skewed as it had become) and so they killed him. But despite all of this, after being tortured and hung by nails, driven through his hands and feet, Christ pleaded with the Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus had compassion on the very people who killed him. That story is the most perfect image of love that I know — Christ seeing his people being used for evil, yet still choosing to love them, still asking the Father to have mercy on them. It doesn’t make any sense, but love doesn’t make sense.

Christ calls us to follow his example and love one another. He has not called us to judge like someone walking into a home and pointing out all of the ways that the house is being run incorrectly. In a world so twisted and broken he doesn’t give us “10 condemning arguments sure to fix your neighbor.” Rather, he more difficultly, though brilliantly, compels us to “love [our] neighbors as [ourselves]” (Mark 12:31) and to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

What better remedy is there for hate, jealousy, pride, bitterness, and blinded hearts than love? How will people experience Christ if we are constantly bickering amongst ourselves and approaching people with hidden agendas to win them to “our side”? Can’t we all just stop and realize that we’re all on the same side — the outside of righteousness?

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Christ came to forgive us of our sins so that through his sacrifice we can be adopted into his family. There is nothing we have done to deserve such a sacrifice, and that alone should provide us the humility to approach others on common ground with no pride attached. The exceeding thankfulness that accompanies a belief in his love and kindness should compel us to show that same love and kindness to all.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — Jesus, in John 13:35

If we do not have love for one another, do we truly understand the sacrifice that Jesus made for us? Are we impacted by the weight of a human life being lost in order to carry the weight of our immorality? Really, stop and think about that: a human being died for you.

This is why when Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he replied,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40)

For if we love God, the love of our neighbor naturally follows. If we have a correct view of God, as well as an understanding of our sinful nature and what Jesus has done to pay our debt, then we will be able to cast aside the “who’s in and who’s out” mentality of western Christianity. When our vision becomes clearer, we can begin asking ourselves whether we’re moving towards Christ or away from him and whether our way of communicating is drawing people into relationship or pushing them away.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3–8)

Are we being conversational and considerate of others’ views, or are we arrogantly assuming that we are right and others are wrong? After all, it’s not our place to “weed the crop,” as explained in this parable told by Jesus:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. (Matthew 13:24–29)

In telling that parable, Christ is giving it to us straight — we aren’t good judges of character and because of that, he doesn’t want us doing his job. After all, we learn in 1 Samuel 16:7 that, “The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Our blindness to the reasons why people live the way they do can lead to hurtful and destructive commentary, even if our aim is to be helpful. Who hasn’t experienced uninformed judgments by a well-meaning friend, family member, or someone in the church? It would do us good to ask ourselves from time to time if we’re being persecuted for our faith or for simply being jerks.

Evil will stop at nothing to corrupt truth, and we do have a part to play in stopping it. Yet in doing so, we must not dehumanize the individuals whom our Father madly loves, whom he died for, earnestly yearning for relationship with them.

You can see God’s heart on the matter here:

“As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!” Ezekiel 33:11

After all, why would our creator, our father, take pleasure in bringing to ruin one of his own children, even if that child was constantly disobeying him? Wouldn’t he hope until the very end that his son or daughter would turn back to him, while desiring that the rest of his children show kindness to any wayward sibling in the hopes of bringing them back home? If we consider ourselves followers of Christ, if we believe in God, then we should look at all humanity in this way — through the eyes of our Father, for we are all his children.

Obeying God by loving people in humility sounds great in theory. The difficulty with love, which I’ve experienced personally, is that it doesn’t give me the same sense of control that a condemning argument would. Love doesn’t allow me to feel superior to others. Love removes my selfishness from the picture, respects the other’s decision to agree or disagree with me, and lets Jesus do the talking. After all, Christ wants a personal relationship with us, and he’s the only one who can speak to us in the unique way that we need to hear.

When we open up a conversation with a stranger, we have no idea who we’re talking to. Before we barge in and start offering our opinions on “home improvement,” we should first and foremost focus on getting to know people in the way that we would want others to get to know us. Are we not apprehensive to open our own doors to another in the fear of what they may see? And if we did so, would we not find ourselves eating most of the critical words we dealt to another?

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” (James 1:19)

So as we find ourselves spending more and more time interacting with others online, let’s not forget the ways that we have been called to interact with others in person.

God has given us free will and calls us to respect each other’s free will in all of our interactions. After all, he’s knocking at our door, not breaking it down. We all have a choice to make. Let’s live in a way that acknowledges people’s freedom to make their own choices, while communicating that the way of Christ is good — because he is love.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

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