One of the habits of Christians which has always been baffling to me is the tendency to seek balance. So, they might try to find the balance between God’s love and his holiness. Or mercy and judgment. Forgiveness and wrath. Sin and freedom.
This approach shares a good deal in common with the Eastern religious concept of yin and yang. The idea is that there are two opposing forces which when brought together in the right balance create a whole.
However, the idea of balance is completely missing from scripture. Which is remarkable when you consider just how widespread the concept of balance has been in religious thought. Many religion’s creation stories were built around the idea of balance between competing forces. Some religions such as the Aztec religion saw their religious rituals and practices as essential to maintaining the balance of the universe. And of course, the concept of yin and yang in Eastern religions.
In contrast, the only time balance is mentioned in the bible is in the context of using a balance to weigh things. Instead of balance, the holy grail in scriptures could be said to be wholeness. The goal isn’t to bring all things into balance. Rather, the vision of scriptures is oneness.
Where there is oneness, seemingly competing interests become largely interchangeable. Thus God’s holiness is an expression of love. God’s judgment is mercy. God’s wrath serves forgiveness. Fear of sin is incompatible with the freedom we have been given. Nothing exists in balance with one another, but rather, it is all inextricably intertwined with each other. You can say love or you can holy and it all means the same thing.
The reason we resort to thinking in terms of balance, despite the concept being pretty well completely absent from scripture, is because this vision of oneness and wholeness makes no sense to us. It all gets very abstract very quickly. It’s much easier to grasp the idea of opposing forces which must be kept in balance. Especially when your goal is seeking out boundaries, balance offers the alluring possibility of making a dotted line between two sides and making sure everyone toes that line.
Rather than a yin and yang sign, the relationship between various aspects and forces in God, the universe and us looks a lot like the earth itself. The earth is whole, yet dynamic. Symbiosis is the rule of the day. Everything exists in relation to and in wholeness with everything else. When you pull a thread, the system doesn’t slip into chaos, but adjusts itself to the new reality, depending on the same forces it used to create the old reality.
Which isn’t to say that a great deal of damage can’t be done by moving and removing threads. However, even catastrophic destruction amounts to nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs in the scheme of things. At some point, mother nature may well shake us humans off like a virus. The larger forces at work will continue regardless of the mess we make.
The problem with this, however, is that something like the Earth is incredibly complex. We just barely understand how it is all connected and our thinking of how to live here without making everything difficult is terribly crude. Which really, is no different than with God. Our attempts to balance holy with love. Or forgiveness with judgment and such are crude attempts at understanding something much more complex and sophisticated than we comprehend.
At its core, Christianity is the path forward through the mess. Our instructions are fairly simple: act and live out of love of God, neighbor and self. Do that relentlessly and without regard for the cost and the rest will follow. Of course, that’s hard, costly work. And there’s the small issue of us not understanding this love thing very well. We can’t admit that, of course. God says to love, so we must be loving.
Most people start from the assumption that love is just a given and happens pretty much on auto pilot. What requires our attention are all the details. Finding the balance between all the components. But not only is it a fool’s errand, it’s starting from the wrong place entirely.
The reality is that simply loving requires our full attention. For all our talk of love and millenia of following various religions which extol love, we are really, really bad at it. We are bad at it as individuals, families, churches, communities and countries. It’s why we are always in conflict, why so many people live in despair, why there are so many people in need, why slavery continues to exist and on and on and on. We’ve made real strides over the last few millenia, but humanity’s lack of skill when it comes to loving threatens to destroy us. The answer Christianity offers is to make Love the center of everything.
People frequently balk at making love the center of everything. There are other considerations, dangers and important issues which must be accounted for. They see love as a part of the whole rather than as the whole thing itself. One consideration to be balanced against the others. Putting love as the absolute center threatens to disrupt the balance.
But Jesus didn’t seek balance. He is completely unbalanced. He tells these stories where love means leaving 99 sheep to find 1. He demands that fathers be left unburied and fortunes sold. He said, “seek first the Kingdom and all these things will be added unto you.”
When we really understand love, we will discover that all the details we think we have to balance against each other actually work together. We don’t balance love of self with love of others, for example. Instead love of self naturally leads to love of others and vice versa. In fact, this is a hallmark of Godly love; when you’re doing it right, the need to balance disappears.
It’s a bit like figuring out how to balance a bike. When you’re peddling, keeping a bike upright is pretty simple. When you’re sitting still, balancing a bike is tricky and unstable. When we love well, other concerns just happen with little effort. It’s when we’re trying to figure things out outside of actively loving that it’s tricky.
We need to trust Jesus enough to let go of all other priorities in order to put learning and practicing love at the very center of our lives. Maybe one day we will know enough about love to have the time and understanding required to attend to the other details. But I suspect that when we really learn to love, the details will just fall into place.
BTW, if this issue is confusing to you or you’re struggling to understand how seemingly conflicting things like mercy and judgment work together as part of love, may I suggest you check out my post on meditating like Jesus? The technique explained there is perfect for this sort of conundrum.