Os Guinness says, “It’s no secret that the world doesn’t know how to handle our differences.” Just consider countries like China, Iran and others in which dissidents are treated as enemies of the state, rounded up and imprisoned or even killed.
In the West, we have handled our differences better than most in the last couple of hundred years, but we have had our issues as well. Guinness addressed religious matters, in particular, and notes that we have different views for how to address differences. There are those who advocate for the “sacred public square” where religion is king, while others urge a “naked public square” that is wiped clean of religious and faith expression.
He advocates for a third way of dealing with religious differences: “the civil public square”. In the civil public square, all people are given freedom of conscience to speak from their own faith tradition, or no faith tradition at all (which is also a kind of faith).
Guinness criticized the last 50 years in the United States during which culture wars have been battled out in the public square. The result is that differences have become more entrenched, and they are getting deeper and wider as time goes on.
As a Christian, Guinness is concerned about the state of the church in these times. He observes that millions of people are dropping out of religion altogether because of “the ugliness of Christian extremism in public life”.
He is quick to say that the secular extreme is just as bad, but I agree with him that we (Christians) should be concerned for our own influence in the world.
Scripture tells us that the battles we fight take place in the heavenly realm. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. (Ephesians 6:12) So, Guinness says, our battle should not be against people. Rather, our battle is in the realm of truth and should be approached more like a court of law than a battleground.
Jeremiah tells us to bless the cities in which we live. This was the instruction to the exiles in Babylon:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare…..
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29-4-7, 10-14)
God’s instruction to His people at the beginning of their exile in the pagan City of Babylon was to live life, to “seek the welfare” of that pagan world and “pray to the Lord on its behalf”. God didn’t instruct them to war against their neighbors among whom they lived… but to love them.
This is a far cry from the instruction to wipe out the Canaanites from the land and not to suffer them to remain or to intermarry among them. Why?
Well, for one thing, God had a plan for the people He led into the land He promised them. The land was to be a place in which God would dwell with them and be their king. It was to be a land in which God foreshadowed and set the stage for what was to come. God was doing special and unique in history.
What was to come was the Messiah, the Savior of the world – the whole world, and not just this particular group of people. What was foreshadowed was Emmanuel, God with us, not in temples made of hands, but within each of us who we would worship Him in spirit and truth.
Many people view the United States like a modern Promised Land, but it isn’t. Not even Israel is like that anymore. God accomplished His purpose when Jesus was born, died and rose again. Jesus fulfilled the all that was written in law and the prophets; and when He died, He said, “It is finished.”
Jesus ushered in the ultimate purpose of God. Jesus has become the way the truth and the life. God cannot be contained in any human institution. His kingdom is transcendent.
We live in and among a world that is exiled from God. These are the people Jesus died for. Like the Babylonians neighbors living among the exiles, God calls us to seek their welfare, to pray for them and to love them – not to battle them in the public square.
Our neighbors aren’t our enemies. And even if we see them as our enemies, God calls us to love.
We wrestle not with flesh and blood – people. Jesus died for those people we are battling with.
We fight against rulers, against authorities, against cosmic forces over “this present darkness of evil in the heavenly places”. (Ephesians 6:12)
God calls us not to fight with people in the public square, but to be salt and light in a world that doesn’t know him. God calls us to shine the light of His love in a lost and dark world. We can’t be salt and light for the people of this world when are busy doing battle against the very people we are supposed to influence.
If we are truly going to be the salt and light that God intends, instructs and expects us to be, we have to lay our weapons down. There no enemies in the people in front of us.