We have been arguing with each other from the beginning. “That woman you gave me offered me the fruit and I ate it.” “Well, that serpent you let loose in the garden tricked me.” Cain, jealous of his brother, clouted Abel on the head with a rock and killed him. Sarah and Hagar. Jacob and Esau. Joseph and his brothers. Moses and the Israelites. David and his brothers. Israel and Judah (and all the kingdoms around them). The disciples on who was to be greatest. The church in Jerusalem on whether to require “the law” for new gentile believers.
And church history is full of disputes, councils, anathemas, condemnations, excommunications, divisions, heretics and self-righteous sects. Hard heads and hard hearts nearly always have the upper hand. And for those who attempt to be peacemakers there is prison, trials (as in before a judge), exile and occasionally death. Once we line up in our sects, parties and tribes and find people to confirm us in our thinking (we get tricked into thinking we are thinking) all we need is to feign disgust and offense to justify ourselves.
Many of the teachings that most Christians (but by no means all) consider to be essential took a few centuries to formulate. The arguments were detailed, nuanced and technical. The nature of Christ, for example, came down to one letter in one word in the Greek language. And the arguments were vicious and politically charged. Sound familiar? Hard discussions and significant disagreements are part of our condition.
One who got caught in the middle of this was the bishop of Cyrus, Theodoret (A.D. 393 — c. 460). For our purposes here, the argument or details are not crucial. What is important is that he chose a side but refused to condemn those on the other side. This brought him grief from everyone. Before it was over, he was exiled. When the government changed, he was given an opportunity to come back. He did eventually relent, but that is another story. His attempt at maintaining peace in a difficult conversation brought him much grief.
He wrote a letter of thanks to a consul, Vincomalus, who came to his defense. We do not know much about him, but he apparently had an eye for justice. We have a few like him today, but we need many more at every level of society.
Here is part of what Theodoret wrote to him. “I have been much astonished to learn that your magnificence, though quite unacquainted with me and mine, and knowing only the wrong that had been done to me, stood up as my advocate, and left no means untried to undo the results of the conspiracy against me. ... I have indeed endured such sufferings as none, or at least very few, of the ancients have undergone, and this not only from my open foes, but, as I apprehend, from my real friends. The former attacked me, the latter betrayed me.”
Such is the fate of those who attempt to stand firmly on one side, while not condemning the other. Is it fear that our bubbles will burst, exposing our weaknesses and faults? It is concern that giving power to others diminishes our own?
Later he calls out the hypocrisy of those judging him. Even though this was a formal trial the mentality present 1,600 years ago is rising again today in the way we treat each other. “What judge has ever been so savage and inhuman as not only to try men, aye but condemn men the sound of whose voice he has never heard. The Lord has ordered the erring brother, who spurns advice, after first, second, and third admonition, to be treated as ‘a heathen and publican.’ Now these most equitable and righteous judges have not even given to them of the same faith (fair treatment).” (Letters of Theodoret, 140).
From our common cause perches, we judge those whom we have never heard nor seen, much less heard from them their story. We have ceded our fairness and judgment to those driven by ratings and personal agendas. We condemn those in whose shoes we have never walked. We dismiss the complaints of those whom we do not try to understand. This will end badly if we do not stop it right now.
I am ever hopeful, however. There have been plenty of good days between Theodoret and us. There will be better days ahead. We just need to decide if we are going to be part of the solution or keep heading toward the cliff to allow our children and grandchildren to clean up our mess.
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.