“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
There is no question that humankind everywhere has serious differences over important matters. I am thinking particularly about religious as well as political differences, not to mention the ethnic, cultural mix.
Paul in Athens (the link gives the entire passage) was distressed over all the idols he saw, and wanted to appeal to them in proclaiming the one God and the gospel in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul’s appeal was made with an emphasis on what united him and the people there.
Specifically in what is quoted above, we can see a reasonable basis for accepting the landscape of the nations, even when sea-changes are occuring. What is going on surely includes God’s working, usually over time. America itself is essentially an immigrant nation, and that continues to this day. In fact one might argue that the way that is true, the basis of that is what has made the United States of America unique, while at the same time I disagree with the doctrine of American exceptionalism which many accept as fact.
But like Paul, for us in Jesus, what is at stake here is the gospel. And that included, Miroslav Volf has pointed toward a vision of human flourishing which seeks to live well with all of the differences of humanity in the world. The emphasis I’m sure needs to be on what unites us, and how even much in our differences can contribute well to the common good.
In order for us to begin to get this, we need to learn to listen, listen some more, and then be quiet, rather than always having an answer and the final word. When we may have something to say, it will then come as a part of a conversation, and people will likely be more open to what we’re saying. A case of less being more. And it will also likely be more valuable.
During this presidential election season, and at this time in America, there seems to be dangerous division over important differences. And most all of those differences will be present even in the church. What is needed is an emphasis on where we agree, trying to find such even within our disagreements as in shared values. And what unites us in Jesus first and foremost is the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus for us and for the world.
Disagreement in this world and life is inevitable. “We see through a glass darkly” and “we know in part.” We should accept that, living within those tensions, and doing so with an emphasis on what we do agree on. And with the goal of being a witness by our lives, and with our words of the good news by and for which we live in and for Jesus. Everything else is important in its place, but is also secondary to us in Jesus in comparison to that. The good news that in the end will unite us with all the distinctions and different gifts we bring into that unity, in and through Jesus.