Devotions

Missing the Problem While Disagreeing on the Solution, Part 1

Many years ago, where I worked, there was a training video that the entire department was expected to watch, educating us on how to ensure that our actions didn’t constitute workplace harassment.  (To give you an idea of the era, we probably watched it on VHS tape.)

However, a few of us had seen the video as part of another program (maybe one for new hires), before it was shown to the larger group.  Despite the serious topic that the video was meant to address, the acting quality itself wasn’t that great.  Once it had been seen by a few colleagues, the jokes started to spread, but not necessarily about the topic of the video (making sure that we didn’t make those around us uncomfortable).  Instead the quality of the video itself was the target of comments.

I remember the department manager (who was a pretty wise leader) rolling this out to the larger group.  He understood that some people were already laughing about the video, but he prefaced the showing with an important message, “If this is funny to you, consider why you think that it is amusing.”

To be clear, workplace harassment is no joke (see Hostile Work Environment)1.  In this situation, though, there’s an important lesson to be found in this manager’s message : When we critique the method, rather than the message, we risk missing the point.


In this context, let’s look at the church.  In the Body of Christ, there are so many unique people worshiping and serving God in vastly different ways.  Multiple methods are used to reach out to different groups of people who need Jesus, while maintaining the same message.2  This isn’t new: We find in Galatians 2:7-10 that Paul and Peter reached out to different groups in particular (here, Jewish and Gentile people), even though their ministries show that they included both groups when they taught the good news3.

But, maybe this message is more about differences in style, location, format, or traditions.  (That’s a topic for a different day.)   Instead, let’s consider this: What happens when imperfect people address real problems in different ways from how we might do so?

The apostles ran into something like this (although this was probably more about identity than about methods):

John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.”
Mark 9:38 NASB

https://bible.com/bible/100/mrk.9.38.NASB

If I were to tie this article to a specific problem that the world around us faces today, I would be doing a disservice to many other issues that bring pain and suffering to those who (other than the general sin of humankind that they share) didn’t specifically bring those problems on themselves.  However, we can brainstorm a few, just from current events: Discrimination and harassment remain a problem, despite the efforts of that old video (and newer online training courses with better acting).  There are people who work hard to provide for their families, but struggle to make ends meet.  Health issues ruin those who don’t have a safety net for spiraling expenses.  Many people who are entrapped by addictions regret their first choice to try out a particular chemical, and desperately want help to get out, but cannot on their own.

Just as there are many problems to be fixed, there are also a wide range of ways to try and fix them.  I’m pretty sure that there are multiple ways that God wants us to address situations that harm people (especially when this happens through no fault of their own), but even if He had only one solution for each problem, the rest of the world has ten times as many less-effective ideas.

Among these potential solutions (good and not-so-good), we have the usual extremes: on one end, a willful ignorance and apathy towards what harms our neighbor; on the other end, an overreaction that leads to worse results for both the afflicted and others in society.

In between these extremes (which I think we can agree are both unhelpful), there is an expansive array of other options: Some people spend one-on-one time with those in need, or act as their advocates in a legal or social context.  Others give money or other resources to help.  There are those who provide support through community organizations or government, as well as letter-writers, phone-callers, e-mail senders, lobbyists, and protesters, whose ideal role is to communicate the needs of themselves and others to lawmakers and other leaders.  Christians (and those from certain other faiths) intercede through prayer, calling for divine help.  Occasionally, some frustrated change-seekers take more dramatic steps, which may result in revolution or other active forms of rebellion.

 

So, can we agree that, in our world, there are plenty of things that need to be fixed, and lots of ways (ranging from effective to useless to downright harmful) to address them?4

If so, let’s first pause and pray today, both for those hurting because of sin (often not their own sin) in this world, and for those who are trying to help them.  Then, we can take a look at our reaction to this patchwork solution tomorrow.

 

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.


  1. I realize that maybe some of my co-workers hadn’t yet learned the importance of treating others with respect, and were laughing that the message of the video, rather than the delivery.  However, I’d like to focus here on those of us who thought that the poor acting was the only amusing part, and who agreed that the purpose of the video was appropriate, even if it was not well-executed.
  2. Let’s set aside those proclaiming false teachings for now.  That’s a different problem for a different article.  Instead, let’s focus on legitimate followers of Jesus who are faithful to Him, yet have diverse ways of showing it. 
  3. I appreciate that Peter wasn’t necessarily perfect in this (see Galatians 2:11-16), but he did bring a message to Cornelius.  Paul probably wasn’t perfect, either, even after he repented of, you know, killing Christians
  4. If you said, “Jesus is the answer to everything”, you get a Sunday School gold star.  We can indeed ultimately trace all of the best solutions in this fallen earth back to Him, and there’s no substitute for becoming the new creation that He offers us, both now and for eternity.  However, even He used different methods to address people’s physical and spiritual needs, so there are clearly multiple God-honoring tactical approaches to the same problems.

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