“And some were persuaded by the things that were spoken and some disbelieved…..” Acts 28:24
“…..the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves.” Acts 28:28
Beware which Garden moment you choose. I’ll explain this later.
We seem to love a good debate don’t we? For they are everywhere. We debate things of substance; politics, wars, what is justice, what should be our path to follow. We also debate things of seemingly less importance; best sports teams, best sports players, who should be voted off the island, what is the best social media site.
Even the term debate is used to describe many different human discourses. There is the formal academic debate with its strictly define rules of argument and specific point-counterpoint style. But then there is the sit across from each other, talk at each other, interrupt each other, shout louder than the other, insult each other, threaten each other and then get up and walk away from each other style of debate. It seems like the latter makes for better television.
But these two styles are nothing new. Plato’s Republic seems to be in the style of the first. Obviously we have no visual evidence but the writing seems to be that of two and sometimes more parties, dispassionately and logically putting forth arguments on many different subjects.
Then you have the first century listeners. In Acts we have many stories of people who were first introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then what happened after they heard it. I don’t say it was always the Jews because there were also groups in Greece and Macedonia. It is interesting that the Apostle Paul is called the Apostle of the Gentiles but if you read the Book of Acts, Paul almost always starts of, in any town he visits, seeking out the Jews in the town or going to their temple and preaching there first. Often times some believe but most reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ so Paul goes on to preach to the Gentiles. For many the doctrine of Jesus Christ is just too new, too strange, too controversial to believe. So they debate.
Alas, debating is not just a thing of the first century church. Some would say there should be no debate, no differences of opinion in a faithful church. I’m not sure that I would go that far. For there are many things the church is dealing with today; what is marriage and who should be allowed to, who do we embrace/include, who do we exclude, are denominations a dying thing, why are we losing people, what should we do about money woes. All of these topics and many more are facing the church and there are many different opinions on how a Christian should approach these things.
Yet here’s the question for today; after the debate, then what? One outcome of our debate is that we may come to an agreement, a consensus about what to do. If so, then our course is set and off we go. But what if we don’t agree? What if our argument doesn’t sway the group? What if we don’t get our way? Do we turn our backs on the one particular church? Do we turn out backs on all the churches? Do we turn our back on God and Jesus Christ?
And now I come to the “Garden” choices. You see, to debate is to have differing opinions; different judgements, come to different conclusions. But because there are differences, doesn’t mean that the basic foundation is something that can’t be agreed on; like, God, our Heavenly Father, is the perfect Creator of all things and His Son Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son, Our Savior. With that as our basis, then we can work through our other differences. With faith in Our Heavenly Father, if we come across something that doesn’t make sense to us, that we might find ourselves inclined to argue with Him or doubt Him about, we can humbly come before Him and ask for His Mercy and Understanding. In short we can have the pre-temptation Garden moment, where our longing is to be in the presence of Our Creator God; Heavenly Father. To walk with Him in His beauty and splendor.
However, if our logic, our learning, our understanding is what we’ve built our foundation on, then our Garden moment may very well be tragically different. When faced with something that we don’t agree with or that we don’t understand from Our Heavenly Father, we may have a post temptation Garden moment. That is, we may run from God, we may hide from Him. We may believe that our understanding, like for example we shouldn’t be naked before Him, trumps His desire to be with us, so we turn from Him. We believe in the end (and that end is tragic) that we know best.
But dear sisters and brothers in Christ; here is where the amazing praise and blessing comes in; either way God is waiting for us. God does not give up on us, even if we turn from Him. God does not abandon us even if we try to argue with Him. How do I know? Jesus Christ told me (and you too). Jesus is speaking about redemption. Jesus is speaking about mercy. Jesus is speaking about His Father’s Love and Patience. Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son. The son’s logic, the son’s understanding, the son’s argument tells him to leave. While the Father does not agree, He does not disown the son, does not turn His back. No, through patience, through mercy, through love, He waits for the son, looks for the son, rejoices at the son’s return and forgives the son. So we may find ourselves at a point of estrangement. We might have arguments with our church, or like Job, we may have even tried arguing with God, Himself. Don’t let the debate be the last thing. Know the Redeemer God will always be there for us. If we will only humble ourselves to Him, He will lift us back up to a place where, In Him, there is no more reason for contention or dispute.
Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, You know that we live in a world full of contention and striving against itself. Through Jesus Christ, You warned us that a divided house will not stand. Forgive us, Most Merciful Father, when we either attempt to contend with You or allow our disagreements with others cloud our relationship with You. We thank You and praise You for Your steadfast Love and Patience with us, always willing to forgive and welcome us back. We pray that You would help us to always remain humble before You striving to build that lasting, perfect relationship. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen