In high school several of my friends and I had intensive discussions about religion. Each of us used the Bible to prove that his or her beliefs were right. We came to some sort of a truce about our differences, but the friendships cooled over the years.
It was sobering for me to think that even nations have battled over differing interpretations of the Bible. Is the Bible to blame for divisions between friends and even nations? No! But nations, like individuals, have tried to use the Bible to justify their behavior.
How can we begin to erase the hate and discord that flare up in religious conflicts? It seemed to me that it was hard to forgive my friends and forget the months of arguing.
Christ Jesus counseled his followers, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Jesus was not only making a demand on us to love each other; he was telling us something of our actual, spiritual nature. Loving, blessing, and praying for an enemy bring out qualities in us such as meekness, gentleness, and temperance, which point to who we truly are as the offspring of God, of Love. God knows us as His sinless likeness, created to express all the qualities of infinite, impartial Love. God never lets our relationship to Him slip away or dissolve.
When we know who and what we are in God’s sight, we don’t feel so pressed to justify ourselves to others. Neither are we so quick to pin selfish or stubborn traits on other people.
I had to learn the lesson to love instead of argue when I was living abroad and sharing the home of a young woman who was very devout. One day we clashed over a point in the Bible. I let the resentment and hurt that started with that conversation continue until one morning when, after being ill for several days, I asked God to help me learn whatever lesson was needed to stop the discomfort I was feeling. The answer came almost as if it were spoken: “Love more!”
I vowed to appreciate all the good things that this young woman did; to appreciate her love for her family, her helpfulness, her obedience, her self-sacrifice. Then I noticed how much love she had for Christ Jesus. That was something I deeply respected and shared with her, regardless of our different ways of worship.
My love for her grew daily. With the change of heart came a change in my physical condition. I was healed of the illness a day later, and a genuine friendship developed between us. There was no way that the differences that divided us could continue to cause animosity when love had a monopoly on my thoughts and actions. The Bible was making its mark on my character, helping me to exchange stubbornness and self-righteousness for lovingkindness, tolerance, and humility.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes: “At all times and under all circumstances, overcome evil with good. Know thyself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil. Clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you. The cement of a higher humanity will unite all interests in the one divinity.”
This restoration of a friendship had a wide effect. Several years later one of my high school friends, the one with whom I had argued the most, called and asked me to be her bridesmaid. There were tears in my eyes as I thought how the teaching of the Bible to love one another had given me back my friend. If this teaching could touch several people in my life, why couldn’t the prayers of all of us, impelled by a profound love for God and man, have an effect on larger religious conflicts?
Regardless of how differently we may interpret passages in the Bible, capturing the healing spirit of one God and His universal family that comes to us through the Scriptures can take the explosives out of human relationships. The Bible doesn’t divide people; it gives us the understanding of man’s real selfhood as God’s image that heals divisions.
Reprinted from the Nov. 24, 1986, issue of The Christian Science Monitor.