Many of us remember the Los Angeles riots in 1992, which was in response to the acquittal of police officers captured on video beating one Rodney King. During the riots a truck-driver was dragged from his truck and savagely beaten; it was also caught on video by helicopter. The news coverage troubled common folk everywhere with the age-old question, “What is this world coming to?”
As the rioting lingered, Rodney King pleaded for peace with another age-old question: “Can’t we all just get along?” The cynics, academics and victims of injustice put their own spin on the question, but it remains: Can we? And if so, how?
How, indeed. Countless folks cry for peace in the world, yet cannot keep peace in their own homes or workplace. The examples are legion in public life, in your neighborhood or mine, maybe in the mirror. And, as painful as this can be, peace begins right there, in the mirror — which is to say, peace begins in the quiet of your soul.
This was illustrated remarkably in a national news story this week that also involved apparent police brutality. This time the officer was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. During sentence hearings the victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, offered forgiveness to the officer who had killed his brother. In doing so he revealed inner peace and strength.
How do you and I find the strength of soul to forgive, to care for the good of the other no matter who they are or what they have done? How do we learn to “get along?” Age-old questions like this linger forever and comprise the human problem. And we only find the answer when we look in the mirror, make peace with God, and let him teach us. This involves the old-fashioned but essential idea of repentance, for there can be no peace as long as we are slave to our own ways and desires. It is not for nothing the teaching of Christ on Earth began with this basic message. Repentance is necessary.
But as I think of learning to get along, especially in the sometimes vicious and deeply divided political climate of our day, I often remember one basic instruction found in the New Testament book of Matthew. If you are familiar with the “Sermon on the Mount” you know it deals with all kinds of themes: money, worry, lust, murder, prayer, marriage, judging. Jesus really “goes there” — he deals with all of life and does so right where we live.
He especially goes to the heart when he talks about getting along. “Love your enemies” is well-known, but his comments about how to do that go to the heart of the matter. He says (loosely paraphrased), “You do not murder and that’s good. But don’t forget that murder begins in the heart. If you call your brother or sister a fool or an idiot you have murdered them in your heart.”
This is a hard teaching but it gets to the root of the problem. Murder begins with derision. Taking a life begins with hate. As long as we cultivate derision for other people we will never get along.
I am not suggesting all who hate their neighbors will murder them. But it really seems Jesus was right: murder begins there. Disagreements need not engender hate, that is true. The issue is how we learn to get along and it begins in the heart. We will never learn to get along if we despise others, call names, or slander others in the quiet of our heart. We think that is the safe place but it is really the incubator for all else. What we allow in our soul will issue forth in our life.
The old adage is true: “everyone wants to change the world; no one wants to change themselves.” If you want peace in the world, cultivate peace in your soul. Make peace with God. Repent. Refuse to be harsh or judgmental of others, Disagree, yes, but do not disdain, for others are made in God’s image just like you.
I want to learn to get along, with God and with others. I want to learn forgiveness when wronged. It’s a matter of the heart, first, and so I go to prayer. I hope you will do the same. Our personal, and public peace depends on it.
Randy Huff is pastor of North Pole Missionary Chapel. Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference.