WOE TO HIM WHO SITS UPON A BRANCH. I haven’t before seen any phrasing as clear and direct as this Croatian wisdom, but I grew up often hearing of the dangers of balancing precariously in this way. And I myself have fallen several times, unable to escape from my own opinionated stubbornness.
During my willful young adult years, I spoke up often with proud certitude and religious zeal. And in my small church, one couple frustrated me greatly. Herb and Flo could look at the same set of facts I was looking at, but they never came to the same conclusion! What I had to learn about myself, and about all Christians, is that human beings are individually and wonderfully imperfect. We just naturally aren’t going to agree. Forming opinions and taking sides on various issues is what we do. And, besides believing in our rightness, we Christians are just sure that God agrees with us. And then, most prideful of all, we start praying that He will enlighten the others!
When we start using our Christianity to justify some political or social or humanitarian cause, we are, according to CS Lewis, allowing our faith to become the “means” to some kind of “worldly end” (Screwtape Letters 34). Such stubbornness in church work makes us vulnerable. We get out there on “a branch” of our own making, and the other faction saws it off. When we are the losers, woe to us—but woe to the winners as well. That’s because, if Lewis’ devil Screwtape were real, he’d be cheering for both sides.
As Christians, as the body of Christ, we not only interconnect with each other, but we’re also standing on the shoulders of generations before us. Christ is truly their and our only cause. And so, in the words of St. Paul: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (NRSV Rom. 12: 18, 21). (Turning Aside to See, chapter 40)
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