A Prize Worth Winning

June 20, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments


Credit: Timur Weber / Pexels.com

To say that we live in a divided society is an understatement. Everything from politics to economics to sociology to now, as researchers have discovered, geography divides us. Bill Bishop, in his book The Big Sort, explains that over the course of three decades:

People had been reshaping the way they lived. Americans were forming tribes, not only in their neighborhoods but also in churches and volunteer groups. That’s not the way people would describe what they were doing, but in every corner of society, people were creating new, more homogenous relations. Churches were filled with people who looked alike and, more important, thought alike. So were clubs, civic organizations, and volunteer groups. Social psychologists had studied like-minded groups and could predict how people living and worshiping in homogenous groups would react: as people heard their beliefs reflected and amplified, they would become more extreme in their thinking. What had happened over three decades…[was a] kind of self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing, social division. The like-minded neighborhood supported the like-minded church, and both confirmed the image and beliefs of the tribe that lived and worshiped there. Americans were busy creating social resonators, and the hum that filled the air was the reverberated and amplified sound of their own voices and beliefs.

This self-sorting into like-minded communities has often, sadly, turned these like-minded communities into closed-minded communities. This, in turn, increases polarization and fuels confrontations between different beliefs, behaviors, and worldviews – and not just in society generally, but even in families personally. More and more, more and more people are no longer interested in learning from those with whom they disagree, but instead in defeating those with whom they disagree.

Around 750 B.C., the nation of Israel was riding high. They had recently captured two Syrian cities, Lo-Debar and Karnaim, and were proudly confident in their military might. What they did not realize, however, is that the Assyrian Empire was quietly ascending and would soon sweep in to decimate and defeat their northern half of their nation. The conquerors would soon be conquered.

It is into this context that God sends a prophet named Amos who warns Israel of her impending calamity:

You who rejoice in the conquest of Lo Debar and say, “Did we not take Karnaim by our own strength?” For the Lord God Almighty declares, “I will stir up a nation against you, Israel, that will oppress you all the way from Lebo Hamath to the valley of the Arabah.” (Amos 6:13-14)

Israel’s victory over these two small towns will mean nothing when they are defeated by a powerful empire. Indeed, the name Lo Debar in Hebrew means “nothing.” Israel may have won a battle, but ultimately, she has “nothing” to show for her victory.

In a polarized moment like ours, Amos’s warning to Israel is also a warning for us. As we fight our battles, it may be worth it to ask: even if we win whatever battle we’re fighting, what are we actually winning? All too often, the answer may be Lo Debar – nothing. We may win a battle, but in our proud moment of victory only hurt others and fray feelings. The cost of our victory in battle far outstrips the value of the prize.

This week, when you feel tempted to do battle – whether culturally or personally, such as with your spouse or one of your children – ask yourself: if I win, am I actually gaining anything, or am I just hurting someone? If the answer is the latter, trade your desire for combat for a patient conversation. Who knows? If you seek to help and understand instead of to win and coerce, you might just both win by not losing a relationship. And that is a prize worth winning.

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Did I Do Something to Deserve My Suffering? The Day of the Lord

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kim Evatt  |  June 20, 2022 at 8:56 am

    Churches are filled with “like” people. They are generally people who seek to live in the fear and admonition of the Lord. It is a good thing. We should be mindful of what people and activities draw our affection toward Christ. If we are living to please God, the love should spill over to the rest of God’s creation. We should promote unity in Christ and Biblical teachings in the church before criticizing American culture. Christians should be distinct.

    Reply
  • 2. Lawrence Don Bailey  |  July 13, 2022 at 8:32 am

    Dear Pastor Zach,
    The church needs more voices of peace and reason like yours. Of course, you are faced with the challenge of serving a wealthy congregation, whom might reflect the kind of negative solidarity you wrote about in this blog entry. The division between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is not restricted to Concordia’s well-heeled Christians. We find it especially prevalent in European culture, where love for one’s neighbor appears to be in short supply.
    Blessings from Denmark!

    Reply

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