Today I’ve not only read Ezra but also Tom Wright’s translation and commentary of 1 John and it’s surprising how well they dovetail. The opening verses of 1 John are about Love and the kind of love that marks followers of The Way out as different, the kind of love that shines all the more when there is darkness all around. Which is where Ezra and Nehemiah find themselves: in the darkness of the Babylonian empire, in despair at having been promised much by God only for it to seemingly disappear. This picture has been doing the rounds on social media in recent weeks and absolutely hits the nail on the head!
However, Ezra and Nehemiah acted out of their relationship with God, a love which demanded action, a love that shone brightly against the darkness of exile in Babylon.
I think many Christians today live in similar circumstances to those in Babylonian exile roughly 2,500 years ago. Living in darkness: the darkness of the rule and authority of those who know little or nothing of YHWH, the God of heaven and earth; living alongside communities who have never heard the name other than as an expletive; living and working amongst individuals who at best belittle and at worst actively try to destroy faith wherever they find it.
Of course we are called to love, to be different, to stand out from this crowd. Not nearly as easy to as do as it is to write about! Our human condition is to crave acceptance, to belong, not to stand out as different. Those who are different often get vilified by those whose main purpose in life appears to be picking off the weak and vulnerable. Especially, it would seem, in our digital lives. It takes a strong person to stand for what’s right when the opposition is as vile as those who campaign for feminism and equality have encountered online recently and still come across regularly.
When did we, as a human species, become obsessed with being right? When was it decided that it’s OK to humiliate, disparage and denigrate those who dare to hold a different opinion?
We must work hard to rise above this kind of behaviour. Unfortunately it’s not only non-Christians who respond to difference of opinion or actions with criticism. And there’s something about being online in particular that seems to encourage the quick retort, the cutting remark, the witty sarcastic reply. It’s as if we forget that behind each twitter handle, each blog post, each Facebook status etc is a person who is looking for the sense of acceptance, of belonging.
There is a danger, brought more sharply to focus through our online lives, that each of us could fall into the lie that “everyone must like me”, or “everyone must be like me”. If we as followers of The Way who are called to show love for all, become people of this lie then we become part of the problem. Our identity must be in Jesus, all our actions and behaviours ought to be, like Ezra and Nehemiah, an outflow of our relationship with God, not moulded and shaped by seeking approval from society.
Let’s take care to turn away from the darkness that surrounds us, let’s not be People of the Lie but People of Light, Love and Truth.