The Reason You Get So Angry with Those Who Differ
Twenty years ago, I had a good friend who became increasingly obsessed with politics. He started guiding all our conversations toward his disgust with this or that policy. His comments became increasingly cynical and caustic. He seemed impervious to information that did not match his strongly formed opinions. Sadly, I began to dread our time together, and our friendship dissipated. Looking back on it, I struggle to know what I should have done differently. Aside from simply jumping on the bandwagon of his ideological freight train, I don’t know how I could have kept the relationship alive. He made ideological sameness the test of our relationship, and I failed at this standard.
My premise is this: Christians shouldn’t have to agree with people, even on big things like politics, in order to have healthy relationships with each other. But if all your friends think like you do and if you always butt heads with people who think differently, then it’s likely that you have a skewed view of eternal life.
Your goal in life shapes how you live your life. Right? For Christians, your goal is to enjoy abundant, eternal life. But how exactly do you understand eternal life? And how does that view affect this life?
There’s only one place in the Gospels where Jesus defined eternal life. Naturally, it’s in John’s writings that you find this nugget from Jesus: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life is knowing God and knowing Jesus. Notice that it’s not knowing about God. It’s not having the right answers about Jesus. It’s not even understanding all there is to comprehend.
Eternal life is about having a relationship with the creator of the universe, and with Jesus Christ. Earlier in the same Gospel, you read how God’s love for humankind was so great that God gave the Son Jesus so you could have eternal life. God’s plan was to produce a relationship of mutuality. Jesus came to open the door to one another.
Eternal life is, therefore, about relationships. Your relationship with God. Your relationship with Jesus. And to take it a step further, it’s about your relationship with others.
John expanded upon this idea in 1 John. There he wrote that the goal of the Christian life is to have fellowship with one another and with the Father. This sure sounds awfully similar to Jesus’s definition of eternal life—relationship with God and with Jesus. But within this umbrella he included relationships within the family of faith. Eternal life is about life of mutuality, transparency, and intimacy.
If your goal as a believing person is eternal life, and if eternal life can be defined as knowing others and being known by them (i.e., having meaningful relationships), then why would you spend so much time and energy on being right?
Could it be that people have been trained to think that the key to eternal life lies in having the right answers? Some have been taught that they can’t get into heaven unless they have been baptized the right way, have worshiped the right way, and have the right answers about the “key questions” (whatever those may be).
All this focus on being right and on doing the right things takes the focus away from the true nature of eternal life. It’s not a victory club for people who know the secret answer. Instead, it’s a community of people who know God, who know Jesus, and who know each other. Eternal life is not the dean’s list or the who’s who. It’s a relational state of knowing and being known.
For me, one of the greatest joys of ministry is experiencing the loving kindness of God through Christian community. By contrast, one of the greatest challenges of ministry is to maintain a spirit of loving kindness when dealing with those whose souls are disquieted such that they lash out at others. Sadly, these souls have been trained to think that being right is more important than being in right relationship. In ministry, nothing is harder to combat than this misguided mindset. I need centering experiences to keep my heart and my mind grounded and focused.
Over the last couple weeks, I had the blessing of traveling across Slovakia with five guys from my church, including my older son and one of my elders. Nothing brings you closer than being on a road trip with others. It was pure joy! This kind of shared existence is what we ought to live for in our faith. Why? Because relationships define the eternal life for which we aim.
How do you live your life so that you are ready for eternal life? How do you invest in that life? How do you spot it? And how do you reach outward to break through the isolation and loneliness of our world to enfold those who desperately need it?
When you think of eternal life the way Jesus did, it sure makes the goal of this life much more obvious and so much more rewarding.