It was the most earthshaking moment of my last two years.
I was sitting with my mom in my sunroom, recounting how just a few weeks before I had encountered the Lord in healing my memories of a specific bullying situation from my 6th grade school bus, when two big Black girls had bullied me, an undersized and younger white boy, for many months. And then it happened – I was suddenly broadsided with something utterly alien to me: in that new moment, the Lord showed me, with total clarity, how He saw the two girls, and His deep love and concern for them in that season of their lives.
In an instant, my entire view of the situation flipped totally around.
I thought I’d been healed of the trauma, and had forgiven those girls, and yet what He showed me reframed it so completely that instead of being grateful I’d been healed, I was suddenly actually grateful for what happened. I found myself rejoicing at what I’d suffered – rejoicing for their sakes, at what the Lord did in that situation. Something that for literally 40 years had seemed intolerable and unfair to me suddenly was not only fair, but was what carried those girls through a season of difficulty I couldn’t begin to imagine.
I’d like to reemphasize what caused the change: seeing the situation from a new perspective, with an unexpected love for someone I’d spent decades hating.
If you’re interested in the rest of that story, I wrote about it in my blog post titled “A Story of Forgiveness.”
But that’s kind of tangential to my real topic. Instead, I’d like to use that recent event in my life as the starting point for a different topic today.
What I’ve been thinking about is this idea that seeing someone from a different viewpoint changed me.
I also saw a tweet by Zack Lambert today that really grabbed my attention. It asked two questions: “If being encouraged to listen to someone else’s perspective and fulfill the biblical imperative to mourn with those who mourn makes you angry, ask yourself why that is. If a pastor caring for hurting people in their congregation makes you yell at them, ask yourself why that is.“
…Which made me wonder, what about rejoicing with those who rejoice, when the same event really makes me sad?
In John 17:13-26, Jesus was nearing the end of His earthly ministry, and He prayed this prayer:
…these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I am not asking You to take them out of the world, but to keep them away from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 Just as You sent Me into the world, I also sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, so that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
20 “I am not asking on behalf of these alone, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, 21 that they may all be one; just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
22 The glory which You have given Me I also have given to them, so that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and You loved them, just as You loved Me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”(John 17:13-26 NASB)
How can we be one, that thing that Jesus was so focused on, when we’ve got honest, serious, faithful believers on opposite sides of issues they both care deeply about?
Consider this week’s upheaval over abortion, with the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
- Many Christians are rejoicing.
- Many Christians are also mourning.
Neither side can comprehend how the other can be so utterly wrong, so heartless, so murderous towards a group of people.
Both sides cannot possibly be right.
Or can they?
Let’s consider Romans 12, and I think it’s appropriate to read the entire chapter from the NASB.
1 Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many parts in one body and all the body’s parts do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually parts of one another. 6 However, since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to use them properly: if prophecy, in proportion to one’s faith; 7 if service, in the act of serving; or the one who teaches, in the act of teaching; 8 or the one who exhorts, in the work of exhortation; the one who gives, with generosity; the one who is in leadership, with diligence; the one who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
9 Love must be free of hypocrisy. Detest what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor, 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never repay evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all people. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12 NASB)
The verse on which I choose to focus at the moment is verse 15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” But from a certain perspective that verse is framed by a very solid explanation of the practical ways to be one, basically reiterating what Jesus prayed.
Another translation says “mourn with those who mourn.” I like that a bit better, because I think “mourn” better conveys the sense of dealing with loss, the deep heartrending cry that happens when something is ripped away.
Back to my story – what happened that evening with my mom was suddenly hearing those Black girls’ mourning at their general treatment in life – understanding suddenly what they were going through, and being suddenly able to mourn with them. It changed me, at a fundamental level. And it happened in an instant.
And then, back to that tweet – “If being encouraged to listen to someone else’s perspective and fulfill the biblical imperative to mourn with those who mourn makes you angry, ask yourself why that is.“
I can’t answer that for you, of course, but I can answer it for me.
Looking back at my life prior to that event, I was literally afraid to look at most controversial situations from any other viewpoint than my own. I was so certain I was right, but I was also afraid that I’d discover I was wrong, even a little bit, if I really thought about things from the other end of the issue.
And shockingly, I now realize that when I began to change, based partly on this event, quite a few people in my life, including my pastor and some family members, literally asked me if I was falling prey to feeling other people’s feelings and giving them too much attention.
What a STUNNING question, in light of Romans 12!
We’re actually told “mourn with those who mourn” and “do not be wise in your own estimation.“
And I am supposed to guard myself from feeling their emotion?
Looking back on it, for decades I was always making a firm decision not to follow those commands. I was too wise in my estimation, and determined not to let someone else’s pain affect me. My politics and my religion both were driven by my sense of my own wisdom, but never by how it affected people.
While it’s just one example of the working out of this passage of scripture in Romans, I’d like to think about this issue of Roe v. Wade for a moment.
- If I’m a pro-life advocate, I’m rejoicing this week. But what about those who mourn? If my entire world is wrapped up in rejoicing, and exulting over the victory in my political sphere, I’m probably not too interested in mourning with them. After all, the victory is something I’ve been praying about for decades.
- If I’m a pro-choice advocate, I’m mourning this week. It’s not that I want to kill babies, but I can’t stop thinking about the harm it’s going to do to many women and to their unwanted babies who will suffer as a result. But what about those who rejoice? It’s impossible to consider rejoicing with them.
So why on earth would we feel compelled to mourn or rejoice with the “other side?” Romans 12:15 is a great verse in an easy time, like when my friend gets a raise, or when my friend loses a family member. It’s easy to rejoice or mourn in those cases.
But what about in a moment like this week? Does that requirement go away?
I submit this is exactly the kind of moment for which this rejoice-and-mourn verse was written – especially since the very next verse says “Do not be haughty in mind… do not be wise in your own estimation” and the verse before says “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.“
This verse is all about sacrificial rejoicing and mourning, not about the easy sympathy.
But why? What possible value would there be, this week, in a pro-life person mourning with a pro-choice brother or sister in Christ? Or for a pro-choice person rejoicing with a pro-life brother or sister?
It goes straight back to the prayer that Jesus prayed: “Father, make them one.”
Wait. How can we be one on an issue like abortion?
Well, I’d remind you of my story. I was so convinced I was right about my bullying, even in my forgiveness of the bullies… until I saw the world from the bullies’ perspective, and saw them with Jesus’ own eyes and heart. Then suddenly I knew that my perspective, and my conclusions, and even my forgiveness, were insufficient. This exact process of seeing and listening to those on the other side of my issues has reframed my thinking about a great many things in the last two years: seeing not only how someone else sees things, but more importantly, seeing them through Jesus’ eyes. And I am increasingly convinced that I cannot see someone from Jesus’ perspective if I refuse to see them or their issue from their own perspective. Until I can rejoice or mourn with them, even when it offends me, I will certainly be unwilling to let Jesus challenge my assumptions about them and more importantly about the topic which He’s interested in addressing with me.
What are we both missing, by refusing to mourn or rejoice with each other? Can we admit that our “own estimation” is insufficient, and we both have something to learn?
So let’s wrap it up with “make them one.”
These days we’re so convinced we are right, and they are wrong – about whatever “it” is, and whoever “they” are, that we won’t be willing to consider being one until THEY change. They have to be like us, and only THEN can we be one.
That’s arrogant. It’s being wise in our own estimation, to quote Romans 12. Being fundamentally humble is an absolute requirement for being one.
Remember that God’s goal for a married couple is to be one flesh – so much “one” that they’re indistinguishable. In Ephesians 5:31, the verse from Genesis is requoted: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” But let’s not forget that this line comes in the same passage just ten verses after this verse: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21 NIV).”
That mutual submission is hard work, but it’s the only way to be “one.” And I’d submit that in this context, mutual awareness and emotions – rejoicing and mourning with one another – is a critical part of it.
And the end goal of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is this: “so that the world may believe that You sent Me.“
Right now, I think any honest look at the American church would instantly recognize the deep divisions between denominations, between individuals, between doctrines. There’s not much one-ness visible right now, and the world looks at us and doesn’t believe. No matter how much preaching we do, how many altar calls, they won’t believe that Jesus was sent by the Father, because of how we’re divided. We’re just not doing a good job of representing the one critical feature of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: that they are Three in One.
So mourn with those who mourn. Even when you’re being asked to humble yourself and mourn – not just cry or sniffle about it, but actually mourn – which requires truly understanding the source and the depth of pain.
And rejoice with those who rejoice. Even when you’re being asked to humble yourself and rejoice – not just smile politely, but actually rejoice – which truly requires understanding the source and the depth of joy.
You might just learn something important.
And more than that, the world will see the change, and ask “tell us about this hope that is within you.” That will be the witness – that we are ONE. Not just in both naming Jesus, but in really, actually working out our differences in love and patience and humility. Maybe we don’t even need to agree – it’s just that, more than we want to win these battles and get our way on doctrine or politics, we really want to represent Jesus being one with the Father, by being one with each other.
I appreciate every moment of your time – thanks so much for listening. We’ll talk again soon.