In only six months, the year 2020 eclipsed the chaos of any other year in recent memory. It opened with the impeachment of a president and quickly pivoted to a fast and furious primary cycle, only to find COVID-19 furiously stalking the world and, through shelter-in-place orders, turning a robust economy into an economic catastrophe. Millions had their jobs and incomes ripped away and their lives turned upside down. Many others remained employed but had to adjust to working from home as children also transitioned to a digital education. Then, just as people returned to work and the economy began improving, masks entered the picture as first businesses and then governments increasingly required them as a precautionary measure. However, these issues receded quickly into the background as the death of George Floyd dominated the headlines, followed first by protests and riots and then by a war against statues. In six short months, disruption dominated American life (and, to a lesser extent, many other places throughout the world).
All of this upheaval, rapid change, and social unrest provoked another type of chaos in the hearts of people. Most do not recognize how much they depend on the constancy of their circumstances to maintain peace and stability in their lives. The stay at home orders provided an opportunity for many families to interact, to bond, and to cherish one another. Yet, sadly, domestic disturbances rose during this time, and many predict that the divorce rate will rise as well. These give evidence to how much chaos runs rampant in people’s everyday lives. Difficult circumstances unsettle them deeply, increasing anxiety among an already anxious people.
Christians have no more immunity to this problem than they do to a coronavirus. However, this anxiety tends to express itself in different ways. Rather than turning to violence, Christians too often turn to bickering and quarreling with one another. Having absorbed the mood of the times, partially due to overexposure to negative news and to the bombardment of opinions about said news from a multitude of friends we have never met, anxiety turned to hostility. Then, amidst this backdrop of increasing enmity, the desire to help protect people as much as possible—both among government officials and church elders—brought the additional change to the schedule (and in many cases the nature) of the regular assemblies of the church. General disagreeableness morphed into striving and contention overnight as Christians grappled with a new situation that had little precedent and that required deeper thought to evaluate than a quick book, chapter, and verse.
Unfortunately, anxiety and rapid change do not encourage patience and deeper study. Instead, they lead to quick tempers and even quicker opinions. In that environment, everything becomes personal and every difference a potential all or nothing question. Amid such turmoil, the wisdom of the proverbs offers powerful reminders. Rather than participating in bickering and arguing, the LORD needs more of His people prepared to calm the tension of the moment rather than to contribute to it (Prov. 20:3). Social media in particular encourages every participant to take positions and hold opinions on every issue. It amplifies division. But we also fail to appreciate that both parties in a quarrel believe they are approaching the conversation from a position of faith. The problem is that while we feel strongly about the validity of our own viewpoint, we have forgotten to give others that same benefit of the doubt (Prov. 20:6), failing to love as we ought (1 Cor. 13:4-7). We have all been there, but that just shows how pervasive the problem is and why it deserves greater attention and correction (Prov. 20:9). It has become the Age of Petty Differences.
The church needs more voices of reason and fewer tongues of contention (Prov. 20:15). We all need to ask counsel and seek wisdom before engaging in potentially destructive behaviors (Prov. 20:18). Heated public arguments solve little. Their history is sordid—not solid. And such open divisiveness has only increased the anxiety and chaos for many Christians who would benefit from more faith and less foolishness. In some cases we have confused defending the truth with dragging dirty laundry into the gutter. We might excuse ourselves due to the extraordinary challenges of the moment, but adversity does not change our character; it reveals it—usually to our own chagrin. Brethren, the Lord has called us to be better than this. The world needs the church to be better than this. And we need to offer one another our best—not our worst. As we aim toward that higher ground, another proverb offers guidance: “It is honorable for a man to stop striving, Since any fool can start a quarrel” (Prov. 20:3).