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Un-Taming the Tension

by George Garrison

Posted: September 3, 2020

Some tension can and should be held without causing major dissension…



genius.com

Pastor George Garrison continues his occasional series, "Thursday Thoughts," on topics prompted by the American struggle with COVID-19, racial inequality, and a presidential election in a deeply divided nation.

We have learned many things about ourselves as a society during these days of the pandemic, not the least of which is that, collectively, we do not handle tension very well. I’m not referring to the interpersonal tension among family members or close friends as a result of shared close quarters (although that is certainly a factor in our lives as well!); I’m referring to a tension of ideas and beliefs with those around us. While it is easy to blame this tension on the pandemic, I think it’s safe to say that COVID-19 has not caused us to become more divisive; it has simply exposed what was already there.

Generally speaking, we Americans do our best to alleviate tension, or at least minimize it. We do this by becoming more strident in what we hold dear and feel most comfortable believing. What the pandemic has done in addition to providing a very serious health risk is also provide a world-wide platform for great social risk. And it’s much more than just a battle between the masks, and the mask-nots.

As a society we would much rather tame the tension than allow it to exist in all its uncomfortable forms. Taming the tension means we either focus on what the health ramifications are if pandemic restrictions are relaxed or what the economic ramifications are if they are not. It means becoming more strident in backing one political party and dismissing the other. It also means invalidating a movement completely based upon particular aspects of its agenda.

Our world seeks to ease the tension in competing views at all costs, not realizing that being tension-averse often results in more of it on a social scale. But this is where the people of God can be profound agents of change. Society needs to see in us followers of Christ that it is possible to hold things in tension without causing major dissension. Why, specifically can Christians lead the way in this regard? Because orthodox Christianity is inherently a belief system that leaves the tensions of its very tenets un-tamed.

In his book Bad Religion, Russ Douthat highlights the tension in the fundamental beliefs of Christianity. Douthat writes, “Orthodox Christians insist that Jesus Christ was divine and human all at once, that the Absolute is somehow Three as well as One, that God is omnipotent and omniscient and yet nonetheless leaves us free to chose between good and evil. They propose that the world is corrupted by original sin and yet somehow also essentially good, with the stamp of its Creator visible on every star and sinew. They assert that the God of the Old Testament, jealous and punitive, is somehow identical to the New Testament’s God of love and mercy. They claim that this same God sets impossible moral standards and yet forgives every sin. They insist that faith alone will save us, yet faith without works is dead. And they propose a vision of holiness that finds room in God’s Kingdom for all the extremes of human life- fecund families and single-minded celibates, politicians and monastics, queens as well as beggars, soldiers and pacifists alike.”

Douthat also points out that many (if not all) of the heresies of the Christian faith have arisen out of the desire to alleviate its tensions. The divine nature of Christ is elevated at the expense of His human nature, and vice versa. Physical desires are seen as inherently evil, or something to be pursued without restraint. But as believers we realize that the tension in our tenets is to be navigated and not tamed, which puts us in a position to show the world that things held in tension do not have to lead to dissension.

To be more specific, the world should see us embracing the un-tamed tensions in life because that is what we have already been practicing consistently by embracing our orthodox beliefs. This means that we should respect the governmental guidelines given for maintaining a healthy livelihood while at the same time realize those very same guidelines have taken away many peoples’ livelihood. This means backing a particular political party (or no party, if one is of the independent bent), but also recognizing there are aspects of merit in both parties. This means affirming that Black Lives Matter, while still disagreeing with other components of the movement. 

The building blocks of our faith and our society reveal that not all tension is meant to be tamed. We are never promised a tension-free life in this temporary human kingdom, only in God’s eternal kingdom. And the degree and intensity to which we tame the former just may belie what the world needs to see in us as members of the latter.

Praying for all of us as we navigate the tensions of these days,

Pastor George



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George Garrison is Senior Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville, Illinois.

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Posted: September 3, 2020

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