In Part 1 I talked about the Beauty of Balance and how ugly it can get at the edges. Here I’ll propose a couple of antagonists to a life of balance and how we might find our way back to Center…
The enemies of balance…
As desirable as social, spiritual, practical balance is, it’s historically been an infrequent and rare quality in the Church. Two things come to mind that I believe routinely drive us away from a balanced perspective: anger and fear. Anger and fear drive us to the edges. They chase us to the extremes and repel us from center of God’s ways.
“You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. . . anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19
We know that anger in itself isn’t a sin. We’re even counseled to “be angry but don’t sin.” Sometimes the only righteous thing to be is angry, nevertheless we have to be wary lest our anger leads us to act in ways that hurt God and harm people. We should be angry about extremes that lead to unhealthy behavior, but in our anger we should be careful not to rush to the opposite extreme! In other words, don’t be so angry at one thing that you scram to its antithesis.
And then of course, fear in itself isn’t a bad thing. It is the proper response to actual danger. There’s something dysfunctional about the person who is never afraid of anything. We should be leery of some things – T-Rexes, sheer cliffs and rabid dogs, for instance. But being driven by fear endangers a life of balance. Some people are so scared of a certain extreme camp that they rush over and join the opposite camp. For instance, some who are rightfully incensed by fanatical fundamentalism reject everything that is fundamentally true!
“… as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear…” Amos 5:19
We tend to get angry at or afraid of one extreme and rush to the other extreme to get away from it. We should be careful not to run so furiously and far from one thing that we run right past Center to the opposite extreme. While evading one objectionable ideology we risk bypassing balance and scurry on to something equally objectionable.
Whether motivated by fear or anger there always seems to be a self-centered and preference-driven scramble to one extreme or the other. Some examples of what I’m talking about:
I know people who are so angry about legalistic religion that they’ve catapulted themselves right past Jesus and on to a religion of license. One extreme demands, “Don’t do anything fun!” and the other posits, “Do anything you want!” Too many boundaries morphed into none at all. Of course, it works in the opposite direction just as easily, from no boundaries to no liberties.
In our fear of an extreme we should be cautious about embracing an equally dangerous extreme. And in our ager at one thing let’s not involuntarily fall in love with its opposite.
Anger and fear do not belong exclusively to the politically or theologically right or left. No one is immune from extremes. If you’re irritated by a hyper-conservative ideology I advise you not to spitefully travel so far to get away from it that you buy into an exclusively liberal religion. And of course, the reverse is just as ill advised.
As I said, Jesus was the only one able to possess both “truth and grace” in tension. Though it’s not possible to have too much truth or an overabundance of grace, those qualities can be extreme if held exclusively against the other as rivals.
Though living at peace with all men is a biblical value, our primarily motive for balance is not to keep the peace. The goal isn’t to make us likeable to everyone, especially at the expense of the truth. We’re not trying to be everyone’s sweetheart. Living in truth does tend to offend the person with a guilty conscience. If we wish to alleviate their offense we should at least try increasing grace without decreasing truth.
We’ve historically formulated many of our beliefs and values on the run. We’re either running away from something in fear or running at something in anger. It’s pretty hard to adequately assess the merit of something while we’re running past it. In such case, we often run right past the truth. Without taking time to adequately assess something we usually come to a premature conclusion. In order to properly evaluate something we have to slow down a little, if not stop altogether, so we can see it for what it is, rather than just the blur we perceived while rushing past.
In our feverish-paced culture we aren’t usually willing to take that kind of time and effort. With the massive trove of data available at our thumb tips it’s way too easy to rush to judgment before we’ve had the chance to weigh the options. A little bit of truth can make you dangerous. The alternative to premature opinionating is to hold lightly those things about which we haven’t had time to adequately ponder. It’s best in those cases to come to a tentative inclination one way or the other and be willing to be persuaded otherwise.
Having opinions without having to being opinionated is an art to be developed. Even when we formulate an opinion we should display the sort of intellectual humility that can be “cemented in flexibility.” I can’t count all the times that I had to change my mind when my theories were bludgeoned by a gang of ugly facts!
Finding our way back to center…
“… no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching.” Ephesians 4:14
“Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands.” Psalm 119:66
I’ve lived too long, know enough about the checkered history of the Church, seen too many bizarre things, and made too many mistakes of my own to expect all our extremes to vanish. I’ve amended my expectations for no extremes to less extreme, and for our pendulum swings to be limited, not entirely eliminated.
Though Jesus was faultless, our version of Jesus, not so much. When it comes to our religion, to say nothing about our politics, most of us are pretty sure we’re right and those on the other side less right, if not flat out wrong. It would be easier if, every time we veered off track, God played the micromanaging corrector of our course. I’m sure he does his best to lure us back to Center but he’s not likely to play Grammar Teacher and write red ink corrections in the clouds. He lets us swing back and forth between pendulum extremes until we’re too nauseated (or nauseating, as the case may be) to continue. On some level until we go to the perfectly balanced Better Place our swings are predictable.
Virtually every fresh move of God in the Old Testament narrative was eventually toppled by people’s self-destructive ways. He let them wander until either he or they could no longer stand it. He’d show up in their pain and, with the voice of a prophet, correct their course. Some of that course-correcting goes on in the New Testament as well, but usually in less direct ways. In the Old Testament he gave them laws to keep their extreme swings in check. Now he installs his values inside our hearts and gives us the Spirit to prompt us, prod us, and empower us toward the center of his will, that place of beautiful balance.
We don’t know how far we’ve wandered until he sheds his light on home in the far off distance. Even then we don’t know how to get back home or even how to ask for directions until the Spirit shows us. He helps us see our lostness, inspires us to ask for help, helps us in the asking, helps us get what we ask for, and keeps helping us keep on asking. I guess that’s why we call him the “Helper.”
So, when we veer off course, let’s allow the Spirit to breathe into our sails, adjust the boom, set the rudder in the right direction harness his power to travel toward Center.
“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne.” Revelation 5:6