I’m meditating on the fact that I repeatedly see discussions on social media where my friends are taking directly opposing positions, yet I find that they’re both making legitimate points, ones worth considering. In a sense, they’re both right, even though their positions logically can’t both be true.
The Bible gives us reason not to be surprised by this.
According to the Scripture, humans are complicated; specifically, they’re characterized by a nature that’s in tension with itself.
- On the one hand, we’re created in the image of God (Gn 1.26-27). There’s considerable discussion about what that means precisely, but most would agree that it includes the abilities to think, feel, and decide, as well as an innate sense of right and wrong, and the ability to rule, to take dominion over the created world in various ways. We have the ability to seek truth and to discover it.
- On the other hand, we’ve been damaged by our sin, damaged in every corner of our being (Ro 3.23). Our thinker is busted and can’t be trusted; our feelings may misguide us; our decisions are not always based in truth.
We’ve all experienced this bifurcation; we want to do one thing—say, be kind to our extremely irritating neighbor—and we disappoint ourselves by snapping back at an unusually irritating remark from him. Even the Apostle Paul described this ongoing struggle in his own life (Ro 7.7ff): he wants to do one thing, but he does the other in spite of his good intentions.
Even more simply, we should expect that all of us are going to be right about some things and wrong about others. Nobody’s right all the time, and nobody’s wrong all the time, either.
But in public discussions we act as though that simple principle isn’t true. The other party’s guy is unremittingly and irredeemably evil, and I won’t give him an ounce of credit or an inch of slack. My party’s guy is unremittingly good, and everything he does can be justified. But this approach, based in utter falsehood, cannot bring good results.
I remember when this point was first driven home forcefully to me.
In 1983 Congress passed a federal statute making Martin Luther King’s birthday a federal holiday. Forty years later we don’t typically see that as controversial, but in those days the debate was heated. Opponents of the bill argued that King was characterized by low moral character; supporters argued that his accomplishments outweighed any imperfections. (I’m simplifying here.)
During the Senate debate, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), an opponent of the bill, argued against the position of Sen Ted Kennedy (D-MA) by saying, “Senator Kennedy’s argument is not with the Senator from North Carolina. His argument is with his dead brother who was President and his dead brother who was Attorney General.”
I’m politically conservative; I believe in limited government and personal responsibility and a bunch of other ideas espoused by Russell Kirk and Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek and, yes, Jesse Helms.
But that outburst is just inexcusable.
And I’m not going to be forced, because someone agrees with me on philosophical ideas that I hold dear and deeply, to justify things he does that are just plain wrong.
Coming back to the present. The fact that Rush Limbaugh held some views that I also hold doesn’t mean that he’s exempt from the biblical command to “be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Ep 4.32) or to “let your speech be always with grace” (Co 4.6). On the other hand, the fact that he intentionally made people angry doesn’t mean that a person can’t appreciate the contribution he made to popularizing conservative philosophies like limited government or personal responsibility.
The fact that Ravi Zacharias was a moral monster does not mean that his apologetic arguments were invalid. But the fact that his arguments are helpful doesn’t mean that we minimize the horror of the damage he has done to women who didn’t encourage his reprobate behavior—or that people in position to know should have let him get away with that nonsense in the first place.
In short, we need to listen to one another rather than simply arguing. We need to recognize when people we disagree with are right, and we need to learn from them, even if we’ll never arrive at all their conclusions.
That’s sensible. It’s normal. It’s healthy.
It’s the only way we can have a society worth living in.