It seems that every day someone else is declaring how wide the divide is between the different races. Most of the time the speaker is quite certain who is to blame and that largely depends on their political persuasion. There is no question that there is division in our world and that too often it is between different races. But I would add the divisions among us aren’t just racial. Often the divides have as much to do with economics or part of the country where we grew up, or even our educational background, as they do with race. Whatever brings the prejudice, the divide, and the false judgments we tend to make about each other there are some things we need to see from God’s word.
One of the first is a point made by the Apostle Paul in his sermon on Mars Hill to the people of Athens as recorded in Acts 17. He had been talking to people in the market place every day and trying to persuade them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Many of the Epicurean philosophers were bothered by his teaching and declared he was setting forth some strange new teaching that they didn’t get. He was escorted to Mars Hill to speak to the Areopagus, a ruling body in the city. He complimented them on being very religious but noted he found an altar “To the unknown god” whom they worshiped without knowing. It was the God they didn’t know that Paul declared to them. He said he was the God who made the worlds and all things in it. He doesn’t live in temples made with hands nor is he worshiped by anyone’s hands as though he needed anything since he gives to all life and breath and everything else. “From one man he made all 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” (Acts 17:24-28).
Focus on the statement he made from one man he came all the nations. All of us, no matter what race or heritage can trace out ancestry back to Adam and Eve. Actually we can come even closer since God destroyed the world by a flood in Noah’s day we can all trace our ancestry back to Noah as well. Every race comes through one of his three sons, Shem, Ham or Japheth. If we have such a close heritage, how in the world did we ever become so divided? God answered that question in Genesis 11. People were gathered in one area and longed not to be separated. They came up with the idea of building a tower to heaven so they wouldn’t ever be separated. Yet God’s plan was that mankind would be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. When he observed their actions he came down and said it was because they were all speaking the same language. He wanted to push them into the whole world, so he confused their languages so that they couldn’t understand those who spoke differently. So the separation of people to spread through the earth with different languages came from God because of the sinful pride or arrogance of mankind.
It wasn’t God’s plan for all people to be in any one place. He wanted us to fill the whole earth. So, our being different came from God, because of the arrogance of humans in that time. Unity is a wonderful thing if people are united for a good purpose and have a heart to do good toward others. But unity can also be achieved by people joining to do the wrong things and being involved in an evil cause.
Sometimes the very division that we hate ends up producing all kinds of good things. Their division caused them to spread through the earth as God commanded. As awful as church division is, it has often led to lots of good things being done. Even churches in dividing quite often end up reaching people they wouldn’t have reached had they stayed together. Does that mean we should seek division? Certainly not. God wants oneness. But he wants a oneness that is totally devoted to doing his will.
How can people who are very different from each other come to understand and unite with each other? Joel the prophet told of a time when the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all flesh and people would speak in languages they had never learned. In Acts 2 that promise was fulfilled and as Peter and the other apostles preached the people were able to hear them in their own language in which they were born. Because they could hear and understand together it lead to a powerful unity that led to thousands of people coming to God. The first day the church launched they added 3,000 people. Soon the message would spread to the people of Samaria then to the Gentiles and to the whole world. Why did it grow so much? People listened to one another and learned the story of a savior who could change their whole lives. The gift of speaking in tongues meant that people could hear the good news of Jesus in their own language in those early days of the church. It opened the door for mission work like it has never been seen again.
What is the point? Simply this, that when people take the time and energy to actually hear each other instead of simply trying to be heard, there can be understanding and ultimately unity for many. Even when the church grew like wild-fire, there were still enemies galore so even the greatest message didn’t reach all and never will. It should also be seen that the walls coming down between people from all different backgrounds didn’t come by some political movement. It came through the message of a savior and God’s amazing grace for all people. The gospel message was meant to tear down the walls between people and bring reconciliation to God and each other. That message is found in the second half of Ephesians chapter two right after the strongest teaching on God’s grace ever found.
I would love with everything in me to see people listening to each other, learning why others think the way they do and trying to understand them. But such will never come about because of a political movement, a march of protest or the actions of police. We need the good news that can only come through the story of Jesus and the salvation he offers to all. When Paul wrote the church in Rome, before he had ever been to the capital of the known world, he said he was in debt to all people, slaves, free, Jew, Greek and barbarian, “That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentiles. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:14-17).
Peace, good will, unity and a longing for what is best for all people, not just ourselves or not just for those who look like us, comes from a God of love and grace. When people honestly worship Him it leads to them having the same spirit of grace, love, good will and longing for what is best for all. A belief in a god of any sort that brings hate to all who differ from us is not a faith that saves and is not the faith tied to gospel.