In the midst of a contentious discussion that doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, have you ever had someone tell you, “You always think you’re right!” In my less sanctified moments, I have said, “Of course I do. Don’t you always think you are right?” If you thought you were wrong you would have to be a special kind of arrogant to argue for a position you don’t actually believe. People have a sense of right and wrong and are willing to quarrel to prove their rightness. The truth is, I’m not always right, but I always think I am.
This post is born out of my own heart as I process how I should think about disagreements. Maybe it’s the nature of our connectedness today but it seems I’m personally confronted more with disagreeable ideas than I ever have been. Whether it be political on issues like the economy and government involvement or social on issues like racism or questions related to theology about the nature of the kingdom, Christians involvement in the larger culture, or dare I say it, the end times, the opportunity for differences are many. There are people I greatly respect as Christian men and women who are well studied that I differ with sharply on some of these issues not to mention those who are not believers who come from a completely different frame of reference. My object in this post is not to speak to any one of these issues particularly. My goal is to address our hearts when we disagree.
Assume you have more to learn.
Towards the end of his life, the renowned bishop, Augustine of Hippo wrote a book entitled, Retractions. In this work, he meticulously criticizes his own thoughts in earlier writings lending correction and addition. Augustine recognized that as he grew in maturity, some of his earlier positions needed to be edited or maybe tossed altogether.
In the spirit of Augustine, I pray that we would hold our views with a somewhat open mind recognizing that we need to always be up to critique and review. Strong conviction does not automatically equal true. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying we cannot argue for a position or hold something with firm conviction. As G.K. Chesterton said, “Don’t be so open minded that your brains fall out.” I am, however, saying that we must hold our positions with humility and graciousness recognizing that others are sometimes equally convinced, in good conscience, of an opposite conviction.
Everyone comes to an issue, especially hot social issues, with a truck load of background that inevitably colors their perspective. It’s myopic and lazy to only recognize our particular set of lenses.
Watch out for anger.
James 1.19-20 captures the danger in a succinct and stinging way, “…be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” While the immediate context of this passage is receiving the Word of God, the principle surely applies broadly. When we hear someone propagating a view that is opposite of what we believe to be right, what is our knee jerk reaction? Rather than trying to understand their perspective, many times we shake our heads in frustration and anger, or worse, we use our words in sinful ways. As wrong headed as one may be, anger is not the answer. Yelling louder than the opposition is a weak tactic resorted to by those who have no legitimate argument. Name calling is rarely productive.
Bite Your Tongue.
More times than not, we probably need to be quiet. Proverbs 10.19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” The idea is simple. The more you talk, the more opportunity there is to say something regrettable (i.e. — sinful).
Before you sound off in anger either in person, social media, or some other outlet, have you carefully considered why the other person may think the way they do? That doesn’t mean you need to agree, but at least try to understand. Have you carefully considered your own position on the issue? Is your own thinking biblical? Are you speaking out of anger or a true desire to see truth prevail?
One of the beauties and dangers of our media driven age is virtually anyone can say anything that is available immediately to thousands if not millions of people. It’s often a good idea to sit on something for a day or two. I do not know where I first heard this quote, “You are the master of the unspoken word, once it is said, you are it’s slave.” That sure has been helpful for me, when I heed it.
Understand your job.
A distinction is in order here. There are times where due to disagreement, relationships are being harmed that must be addressed. In these instances, we need to seek counsel, forgiveness, and restitution. Some differences must be dealt with. Romans 12.18 offers an insightful bit of wisdom. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” There are massive implications here. You have a responsibility to seek peace. But some people aren’t going to let you be at peace. Make every reasonable effort, deferring preferences, and showing love. Once you exhaust reasonable efforts, move on with life. Sadly, some do not love peace.
There are others of course, to which we have no real life connection yet we feel our obligation is to fix them. In general, you will be a happier person when you stop trying to fix everyone. Given the ubiquitous nature of the media today, we can easily find all sorts of drivel with which to argue. Some sound advice from Disney may be in order, “Let it go, let it GO!” Whenever my daughters start to quibble over something insignificant, I start singing “Let it Go” in my best Elsa voice, which isn’t very good. This is surprisingly effective. It’s usually met by eye rolls and protest. Soon enough, they forget the vitally important issue they were debating.
Some battles are worth fighting. Some are not. Reserve your outrage for truly outrageous injustices and you are much more likely to be heard. This side of heaven, we will have disagreements. May the Lord help us deal graciously, kindly, and patiently with one another.