14 Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. (Heb. 12:14-15)
After encouraging his audience to stand firm in the face of struggles the author of Hebrews goes on to exhort them to treat others with love. It seems counter intuitive, certainly counter to all experience. In times of stress and struggle we are most wont to fight with one another, even and especially those we love. Yet in the midst of suffering “trails,” and perhaps even because they are in the middle of suffering, the author says that they must continue to act with grace, holiness, and love.
I cannot help but think about the circumstances in the ECUSA right now. From the left to the right I hear people saying that they are being persecuted and are facing terrible trials. (I will leave aside the appropriate commentary that compared with the sufferings of those in the early church, no one in ECUSA is suffering. No, I guess I didn’t leave the commentary aside after all.) People feel attacked and wounded and they lash out and wound others. Hebrews says rightly predicts that this sort of bitterness “causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.”
In such times of conflict and fighting our response instead ought to be and must be to attempt to bring peace even while in our quest for holiness. The fact that there are firm disagreements over very serious issues does not necessitate vitriol and violence. Being right, or even simply believing with firm conviction that we are right, does not give us license to be rude, mean, obnoxious, or hateful. Not even smug. Or to be snarky (even if it is funny).
This is perhaps one of the harder lessons to learn and yet when we get it wrong the depth of destruction that can occur is unfathomable. It is leading to divisions in families, churches, and dioceses. And that is just within the church. Looking from the outside in, why would anyone want to become a part of a community that cannot even love itself? And we cannot love ourselves as a community if we do not first love ourselves as individuals and I am convinced we cannot love ourselves until we fully realize the depth of God’s love for us. Unfathomable indeed.