By, Isam Itson III
Love does not rejoice at evil – 1 Corinthians 13:6
We are often confronted with people we do not agree with from different political parties, or rivals within our industries, or people we just don’t like in our families, workplaces, churches, and local communities. They represent a way of life that offends our sensibilities or competition for our immediate access to apparently limited resources and opportunities. Whatever the particular circumstances, we perceive them as threatening our well being or the best interests of our society.
Our internet devices place us on the virtual frontline of an endless protest. Online it feels like the conflict is personal, immediate, physical, and demands an immediate, passionate reaction that beats our opponent into submission. We use the language of combat and war. We revel in every setback and failure of our opponents. They are not someone to be reconciled or won over. They are an offender, an attacker to be beaten. They are not one of us. They are a threat to our very existence and all we hold dear.
Social media and round the clock newsfeeds heighten our exposure to our opponents, their opinions, and the threat they represent. We are constantly confronted with their words and images, and the often heated responses of our allies. It’s virtually impossible under these circumstances to pull back, allow ourselves to calm down, and respond thoughtfully to what we are seeing and hearing.
In our heightened emotional state they go from being someone made in God’s image to being evil incarnate. Their ideas and actions may be unconscionable and perhaps even irredeemable, but we cross the line and consider the person to be irredeemable. When something bad happens to them our first response may be rejoicing in their misery, ”Good. They deserve it.” In light of God’s presence, love, grace and power expressed for the sake of our salvation and restoration we have to look past their offense and honor God’s word toward them.
It’s like the story Jonah and the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. The prophet Jonah received a message from God to declare his impending judgment on the Nineties as a final warning to change their violent and tyrannical ways. Jonah’s hatred of the Assyrians was so deep that he did not want to deliver the message because he wanted God to destroy them, and he knew that if they repented God would spare them. So Jonah hopped on a boat to travel as far from Nineveh as he could get.
The Bible says that God sent a storm to stop the boat from continuing on its course. Jonah knew that God had sent the storms he told the sailors to throw him overboard in order to save themselves. Then, God sent a fish to save Jonah from drowning. In the belly of the fish Jonah repented for his disobedience and God had the fish spit Jonah onto the shore outside of the city of Nineveh. Jonah delivered his message that God would destroy the city in forty days if they did not repent of their great evil against God and humanity. The king and the people repented and God spared them. But Jonah was not pleased.
Jonah 4:1-11 – But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Love does not rejoice at the anguish or destruction of other humans because while we were yet sinners, enemies of God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Ultimately, God will not allow evil to prevail. Until that day, God is committed to reclaiming as many people as possible to his loving embrace. Along the way he gives all of us who have surrendered to the call of his sovereign grace the privilege of extending God’s call to others.
Therefore, our commitment to God in Jesus Christ demands that we never lose sight of God’s love for the human beings with whom we disagree. We must see through the conflict and reach out in the hope and spirit of reconciliation, to the person for whom Christ died, the human made in God’s image.
1. Is there a topic that you feel is especially divisive whenever it arises in your life? Why?
2. Has there been a time when you have rejoiced in the anguish of another? How could you have responded differently?
3. What steps can you take to love “disagreeable”others the way God has shown you love?