Ideals don’t hold up when life gets real. As Christians, there are many ideals we uphold and, ideally work toward. But that’s rather easy when we’re listening to a sermon, a speech, studying the Bible, or having a calm conversation (most likely with somebody with whom we agree.) But when the conversation turns to disagreement or we encounter a situation that isn’t so easily handled (probably because it takes us out of our comfort zones), ideals aren’t heralded with nearly the fervor with which they were in the calm.
That makes sense if you think about—a storm is never the ideal. No ship captain considers a storm ideal weather. No person considers a storm in life to be an ideal scenario for living. Soon we recognize that an ideal doesn’t hold up when life gets real.
Life has suddenly gotten real for America. To be sure, it’s not new for everybody—people of color have been living this experience their entire lives. But as a white Christian, the realness is affecting me in new ways. We need to be mindful that a “here we go again” attitude toward peaceful protests and noble individuals who merely want to be heard, seen, valued, and loved like anybody else is not a fair position to assume. Often, it’s been a constant reality. There is no “again” for them; it is perpetual.
When my son gets hurt or upset, it is often about things that would not make me feel hurt or upset. Yet I care for him because I love him. If we do not care for our brothers, sisters, and neighbors who are hurt or upset—even if we do not directly feel the pain, we are not loving. In fact, the more we learn to care and love, the more we will share—little by little—in that hurt and pain so we can love and care all the more.
Many Christians have the ideal to love everybody, but eventually life gets real and the ideal goes away. The ideal to love everybody is a good one—a great one! But when love is lost, the ideal vanishes and all we are left with are attitudes that expose empty platitudes.
In Ephesians, Paul recognized how hard it is to live up to the ideals believers share. That’s why he shared with us what God has done to help us experience ideals in a real world. God established unity between groups of people who could not get along—the unifying factor wasn’t politics or protests, it was Jesus. He still is the unifying factor for the world today.
Following Jesus doesn’t suddenly make every step easy. Life is still real. So Paul urged the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of their calling” (Eph. 4:1) and then he told them what that should look like. “With all humility and gentleness, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (4:2-3) He then goes on to highlight the extreme, perfect unity found in Christ, found in the Godhead, found in the body—the Church. That’s us.
So where is our unity? Can it still be found in the Church? Can it be found in our church?
I’m not against protests. And as for riots, I understand that sometimes people lash out in what seem irrational actions because of something they’ve experienced in their past. It is possible to disagree with an action and still consider what caused a person to feel that action was necessary in the first place.
What I am against is simply saying racism is wrong. Murder is wrong. Of course they are, God has provided a solution to these things and we’re not doing a good job of showing it. Instead of living out the solution for the world to see, the world has once again seen evil on full display.
If you’re a Christian, you’ve got the answer to all of this. It’s an answer we need to share with our neighbors. And as we do, we can’t negotiate or contextualize our way from Paul’s instruction to “bear with one another in love.” As soon as I have a brother or sister in Christ, I have every reason to expect and work toward unity.
What about neighbors who aren’t believers? Paul covered that, too! "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.’ (Colossians 4:5-6.). (And let’s not forget Jesus’ continued example, either.)
As much as we want societal change.
As much as we want there to be a switch to flip to end violence, oppression, and hatred.
As much as we want peaceful protests to be effective.
We already have an absolute solution in the person of Jesus Christ.
Practically, the way to maintain unity and bear with another in love is to simply get to know each other and, together, get to know our Savior, better.
When that happens, love will no longer be a platitude. It becomes our purpose.