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Some Things I Am Unable to Understand

I’m taking a page from Solomon this week: his listing of several things, often unrelated, plus an extra, that puzzle or amaze him.

Here are some things that I wonder about.

1. I don’t understand why mean, destructive people get into positions where they manage others. And how they stay there, and even get promoted.

There are many great bosses out there. I’ve got one of them. But in my past employment in the Church, as well as my wife’s and many friends’ outside of it, I’ve been amazed at how often unkind, team-destroying people are adjudged by their superiors to be capable leaders in whom they will put full trust even as they watch them destroy the lives of those who work for them.

One of my friends worked in the same department of a financial firm for ten years. A new boss came in above him. The new boss began pushing people out and replacing them with his buddies. My friend had had extraordinary performance reviews for ten years. Within two years, he was adjudged totally incompetent, and fired. The bosses one level above knew him, knew he was being treated badly, and did nothing. They had to support their managers, they said.

Strength, stubbornness, and arrogance isn’t leadership. But it seems to take you a long way, in business. And sometimes in the Church, too.

2. I don’t get why churches will tear themselves apart, destroying friendships and relationships, over minor matters of belief or practice.

I pastored a church, years ago, that was deeply divided because some of them went out to eat on Sabbath, others didn’t. Some were vegetarians, others weren’t. Some drank coffee, the others didn’t. Some believed that all Christians could be saved; the others insisted that only Sabbath-keepers would make it. These differences were accompanied by endless sniping, and sotto voce recitals, on both sides, of personal slights by the others.

The church was in a small rural town. As Adventists, they were already considered odd by their (mostly Lutheran) friends and neighbors. You’d think that would be enough reason for them to stick together. After all, who did they have more in common with than one another? Alas, no. They were separated from their neighbors, and they hated each other, too. The church, it always seemed to me, was their cross to bear, and not much of a blessing.

We Adventists have some distinctive, detailed doctrines. But what about these major teachings of Christianity: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mark 6:13). Or, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13). Why will people ignore these, and instead break relationships over disputable (and by comparison, insignificant) matters like what you did on Sabbath afternoon, or what you eat, or who God decides to save? (Which last, it seems to me, really can be left up to God [Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19].)

A friend told me of a church where the leadership said they would not worship together until they all agreed on the nature of Christ. Inasmuch as they are at one another like mad ferrets, it isn’t going to happen soon.

In such cases, one is tempted to think it isn’t about theology at all.

3. I’ve often puzzled why people cling to the details of eschatology, and spend all of their interest and anxiety there, when there are far more immediate things in their lives to deal with.

I’ve seen it so often: a family has crises and difficulties, sometimes obvious to everyone: family problems, moral problems, money problems, questionable character and credibility.

What do they obsess about? The order of appearance of the end-time events. The Catholics. The close of probation. Imminent persecution. Their judgement that the rest of the people in the Church aren’t pure enough to expect Jesus to come back right now.

Please understand: I’m not talking about those who anticipate Jesus’ return, and hope it happens soon. I count myself firmly in that group. I’m referring to those for whom what the Pope is about to do to us is more important than Jesus.

Especially by the time you’re seventy or eighty years old, one would think you’d have more pressing concerns. Like, say, getting ready to die, which it seems to me is, at that age, the most likely scenario for your first face-to-face with Jesus.

I’ll venture so far as to assert that the stronger the obsession about eschatology, the less likely these people’s children are still in the Church. I can’t tell you for sure which comes first: whether constant harping on eschatology chases the children away, or the eschatological extremes are a response to family issues. Or some synthesis of the two. But there’s a psychology here that I simply don’t grasp, although I’ve puzzled about it. Is thinking about distant eschatological possibilities a way to dodge real life here and now, perhaps? Maybe talking about and anticipating the time of the end provokes spiritually intense feelings, and makes one feel like he’s doing something spiritually significant?

I’ve always believed that living each day so that you’d be ready to die is the same preparation you make for Jesus’ advent. Though there is one difference: “The living know that they will die” (Eccl. 9:5), somewhere in the neighborhood of four-score, but “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).

Yeah, even 4: I can’t understand why people won’t let you in when you have to change lanes.

You have to get in the right lane to turn, the turn is coming up fast, yet everyone speeds up as they pass you. You slow and get even slower, hoping for a chance to move over. Is it really that important that they get there two and a half seconds earlier than you?

Loren Seibold is senior pastor of the Worthington, Ohio, Seventh-day Adventist Church. He also edits a newsletter for North American Division pastors called Best Practices for Adventist Ministry.

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