Most of us recognize this well-known quote from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”: “To be or not to be? That is the question.” Hamlet is contemplating suicide here—trying to decide whether it is better for him to live or to die. Pretty heavy stuff.
We are currently living through a season that is causing all of us to confront the inescapable fact that life can be hard. Some faithless people have to be pondering if living or dying is better.
COVID-19 has brought a raft of intense stressors. Millions of people have lost their jobs, homes or businesses. Families are quarantined because of stay-at-home orders. Tension, even violence, between spouses and/or siblings is on the rise. Boredom and disrupted routines exacerbate the relational strain.
In addition, we are consistently being warned that the possibility of contracting the deadly virus is ever present. And while social distancing may preserve our physical health, it is endangering our emotional health. Churches have not been able to assemble for months, resulting in a spiritual lethargy for some.
“The cumulative effect of all this could be a ‘perfect storm’ when it comes to the increased risk of suicide,” wrote Dr. Mark Reger, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
In light of these serious issues and their consequent negative impact on people, there is one thing we do not need right now, and that is division among Christ-followers, especially over something as insignificant as wearing a mask in and out of our worship assemblies.
This is not something we want to debate into significance. This is not worth us sacrificing the unity Jesus prayed would mark His disciples. Rather, Christians must be self-disciplined to conform our attitudes and actions to a single vital Biblical principle: resist division.
Reviewing the Gospels has convinced me that Jesus actively resisted divisive political issues. In John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well, in an effort to divert the Lord’s attention away from her marital history, asked a potentially divisive question: “‘Sir... our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’”
Jesus would not weigh in. He ignored her request for a verdict on the divinely authorized location of corporate worship and responded: “‘Woman ... believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem ... a time is coming and now has come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks’” (John 4:21-23).
Jesus was not going to be lured into petty theological arguments or identify with either side of an unimportant divisive matter. He called the Samaritan woman away from her pettiness and into the deeper life of faith.
In John 8, the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus and tried to trap him by asking, “‘In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?’” (John 8:5). After writing on the ground with His finger, Jesus straightened up and said to them, “‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’” (John 8:7).
The Son of God did not enter into this conflict. He defused it. He did not stand up and wax eloquently on a potentially divisive theological argument. His compassionate priority was relieving a woman’s guilt and shame.
You see it again in Mark 12 when some of the Pharisees and Herodians put Jesus on the spot publicly. After a thinly veiled attempt to manipulate him with compliments, they pounced, “‘Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?’” (Mark 12:14-15).
Again Jesus seemed to ignore the question. He was not going to cater to the divisive spirit of the Jewish religious leaders or be pulled into a tit-for-tat over a political issue. He simply said, “‘Bring me a denarius and let me look at it ... Whose image is this?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ And they were amazed at Him.” (Mark 12:15-17).
Again, Jesus operated at a much higher level. He called the crowd up and into the Kingdom of God.
Finally, at His trial before the Sanhedrin in Mark 14, Jesus refused to defend Himself against the contradictory charges of the false accusers.
The high priest could not believe Jesus did not defend Himself. “But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer” (Mark 14:61).
When anyone attempted to pull Jesus into an argument, He refused to participate. Matthew wrote, “But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor” (Matthew 27:14). He resisted entering into a conflict or participating in a schism even to save His own life. He consistently stepped back/away when there was division.
There is an exception however. He said to the woman at the well, “‘I, the one speaking to you—I am He’” (the Messiah) (John 4:26). And when the high priest asked Him if He was the Messiah, Jesus responded, “I am.”
Jesus clearly and consistently identified Himself as the Son of God. He did not weigh in and take sides on trivial and divisive matters, but He placed the highest value on unity and oneness, especially among those who believe in Him.
The mystery of God’s will, His eternal purpose is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).
We would do well in this season of potential division over all the questions/issues regarding the why, when, who and how to regather the church to let the Apostle Paul have the last word, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Ken Idleman is a Southeast member and former pastor of Crossroads Christian Church.