In the country, not far from where you grew up, there was a very troubled family. This family had a mom and a dad, a brother and a sister. The sister was just a little over a year older than the brother and from the day they were both able to walk, they had been at odds with each other. What made them unique was that everyone agreed that in every area other than when it came to each other, they were model children. They were helpful to their parents and anyone else they came in contact with, even looking for ways to help without being asked. As long as they were separate from one another, you would have never guessed that there was a problem of any kind.
The parents had tried everything to get them to work out their differences, but no matter what, if the sister had one opinion, the brother must have the opposite, and vice versa. Even when it came to simple things like what to eat or wear, if one of them expressed an opinion, the other would be sure to disagree.
These disagreements weren’t just a polite contradiction. Every conflict was full out war. The siblings not only didn’t agree, but they basically demanded compliance with their opinion. There were few rational arguments between them, instead their conflicts were marked by yelling, name calling and often physical altercations as well. From the time they were just a few years old, on into their teenage years, every battle didn’t end until they were physically separated from one another.
Soon, the parents developed an elaborate household system that was designed to keep them permanently separated. They divided the house into zones and each sibling was assigned times that they could be in each zone. During the few times the brother and sister were together, the parents forbid them from speaking to one another. But they still sometimes found ways to be in conflict, even if it was just from a glance in the wrong direction.
After a brief experiment with school that ended with the parents getting called in every day, the brother and sister were home schooled and only allowed to go out into the community on alternate days. As you can imagine, it wasn’t just the parents who tried to solve this problem, but family members, school counselors and medical professionals were brought in to talk to them as well. Most of them had the same experience, whenever they were by themselves, they seemed perfectly rational, calm and compliant with the desires of the person trying to help, but as soon as they were together again, the ruckus started.
Finally, the parents had reached their limit. Even though the children were only 15 and 14 respectively, they knew they couldn’t continue to live in the same house, one of the children would have to go someplace else. But how would they choose? Despite all the trouble, the parents loved these siblings and they really were good kids as long as they could be kept apart. It seemed that the only answer was permanent separation.
They talked to the daughter first, her being the oldest, and she calmly made her case for why her brother had to go. In her mind, he was the problem. She was right and he was the one who insisted on living a lie and holding to positions that couldn’t possibly be true. He was so unreasonable, surely her parents could tell that the obvious solution was to find another place for her brother. Having him in the house was like having an agent of chaos, who just wanted to tear all reason and truth apart. There would never be peace in the house as long as someone who refused to acknowledge the truth was living there.
When it came time to talk to the boy, the conversation was very similar, but he pointed to his sister’s harsh, uncaring nature. She was a cruel person, who had always hated him. He suspected that she had a natural bias against little brothers that made her target him for unfair treatment. It only made sense that because she was the oldest and the source of the problem that she must be the one to go. There would never be peace in the house as long as someone so heartless was living there.
In the end, the parents couldn’t choose. They decided that the dad would take his daughter away and the son would stay with his mom. That way at least each child would have one parent. They would arrange for the other parent to be able to visit occassionally, but the strife between the children had finally ended their home.
Both of the children didn’t like this plan. They couldn’t understand how their parents didn’t see clearly that the other one was obviously the problem. But both of them, unwilling to compromise even a bit, wouldn’t agree to change in order to save their family. Instead, the story ends with a family divided, perhaps forever.
Unfortunately, this kind of division is becoming more and more common in families, communities, churches and workplaces. As a society, we are “birthing” children who are unwilling to come to any type of middle ground where mutual understanding might be found. We are modeling division and all discourse is becoming charged with a severe dislike and disrespect for anyone who does not agree with our opinions. Instead of engaging and talking through ideas, we are obsessed with labeling our opponents with sub-human categories that demean them personally while “destroying” their arguments. We make everyone the “Other”, an enemy that we cannot empathize with.
Just like the two siblings, the path we are on is one that none of us will enjoy in the end. We are headed to a place of desolation. A “broken” place that cannot be repaired by any government or leader. The reality is there is little hope for us to turn away from this path on our own. Just as all of our efforts to save ourselves end in failure, the only real hope for true reconciliation is in Christ.
When we read a human story like the one above, we want a solution. We don’t mind the conflict and the drama if in the end we know everything will work out. But we are fooling ourselves if we think that any human leader has a path out of this. Only Christ can put hostility to death. The way forward is up to each of us. Will we turn away from human solutions and start putting our hope in God-sized answers or will we continue to live daily immersed in strife and enmity?