JULY 20, 2014
The anti-immigration forces line up on one side. Armed with an absolute conviction of their moral righteousness, they protest and force immigrants away, driving children out of their towns. The pro-immigration forces line up on the other side. While they may be less violent, they are no less convinced of their moral justification. And they are just as rigid, just as inflexible, just as self-righteous.
And while each side tries to out-shout the other, things are going on that neither side really understands. Parents who love their children and afraid for their lives do what would be unthinkable for us – they send their children away, hoping against hope that this will give them a decent life and something to hope for. Children, terrified and alone, take a journey that they don’t understand, hoping for safety and peace. Officers of the law try to cope with situations which are overwhelming, trying to be both upholders of the law and compassionate guardians.
And while the pro- and anti- immigration forces shout at each other, neither really sees the terrible suffering that is all around them. They get so wrapped up in fighting for their cause that the people involved, the individual lives, are completely forgotten.
We see this with every moral and social issue, sexuality, abortion, the Middle East. Armed with the weapons of moral superiority and self-righteousness, people argue about the right and the wrong of things, completely overlooking the ambiguous and often difficult choices people have to make.
But, you ask, isn’t it the Christian’s job to decide what’s right and wrong? Aren’t we supposed to make moral judgments? And the answer is, of course, yes, but I think Jesus’ story about the weeds and the wheat gives us a different perspective.
It is clear that there are weeds in the garden. There is evil in this world. People do things that are ugly and selfish and hurtful. Jesus doesn’t pretend that things are just fine. But when the servants come to the master, wanting to rip the weeds out, he says no. And his reason is interesting. What has happened is that the weeds and the wheat have grown so closely together that to rip out the weeds would mean also ripping out good wheat.
The evil that we see in the world is so interwoven with good that to try and eradicate it will cause more destruction than we could have imagined. The anti-immigration believers see a risk to the stability of our society, and that’s a good thing. The pro-immigration believers see children in distress and danger and want to do everything to help them. And that is good as well. Each side is coming from a strong moral commitment, and that’s good. But mixed in with their goodness is evil. Not only are they unwilling to tolerate anyone who disagrees with them, but they tend to run roughshod over the real people involved – the children, their parents, all of whom are ignored. And that is a much greater evil.
But this intermixing of good and evil isn’t just in the world out there. It is also in our own hearts. Each of us makes choices and decisions every day. And we can always give a good, righteous reason why we’ve done something. In our own minds, we’ve done it for all the right reasons. And if someone is hurt by what we’ve done or if someone suggests that maybe our motives weren’t absolutely pure, we are shocked. But when we think about it later, we sometimes have to admit that our motives were mixed. None of us is as noble or pure as we present ourselves. Good and evil are all intertwined in us, so closely that we can’t always tell the difference.
And this is where Jesus’ parable comes in again. He says it clearly – God will sort out the good and the evil in the end. God will allow both good and evil to grow together – NOT because God doesn’t care, but because the good is too important to risk hurting in an effort to get rid of the evil.
It is not our job to rid the world of evil, not that we could if we wanted to, but to live a life that is as loving and faithful as possible. That means loving the people on the other side of the issue and having compassion for the innocent lives that are caught up in the terrible events of this world. And it means letting go of our own judgmentalism and self-righteousness. We are never as right about things as we think we are and others are never as wrong as we want to believe they are.
And further, living a life of love and compassion means having compassion for ourselves. We need to be honest about the mix of good and evil in our own hearts, and we need to be able to admit that we all have mixed motives. We also need to allow God to sort out all those motives, to forgive us our evil and help us in our good. The good of the world and of our hearts is mixed in with the evil and we need to honor that.
One of the telltale signs that we have forgotten to let God sort things out is when we start believing that there is only one solution to any moral problem. Human life and human choice are always multi-faceted and complex. To trust God means allowing ourselves to enter into that complexity, to feel the anguish of those who suffer in the midst of moral dilemmas and to feel compassion for all those involved, even for those with whom we disagree most violently, even for ourselves.
And, most of all, we have to trust that God knows more than we know, understands more than we can grasp, and loves infinitely more than we can imagine. In the fullness of time – God’s time – the evil and the good will be sorted out, and God will do with it what needs to be done. And the promise is that God will do that in our own hearts as well – our goodness will shine and our sin will be burned away.
God’s love is deep and full enough for both the weeds and the wheat, for the good and the bad. The world is not nearly so simple as we would wish, and we cannot take refuge in easy answers or moral superiority. But if we open ourselves to compassion, we will bring the love of the infinitely loving God with us. May God give us the courage to open ourselves to that love, which is the only hope for this world.