Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Polarizing Principle

If you own a pair of polarized sunglasses, try this experiment. Hold them up and look through them at an item that contains an LCD display – maybe your car stereo or a digital watch. The LCD-type is the kind that has black numerals that seem to float - the earliest digital watches were LCD-type displays. Rotate the sunglasses by ninety-degrees while watching the LCD through them. If they are polarized, the numbers will gradually disappear and only black will show through. Or take two pair of polarized sunglasses and look through both of them while rotating them different ways. You will notice that nothing can be seen through them if you hold them at right angles to each other. The point of the exercise is to demonstrate this – when looking at two items that are polarized in different directions, no light gets through.

Personalities can be polarizing, too. Many politicians can be said to have a polarizing effect on people - none more so than Hillary Clinton. People either adore her or have a strong aversion to her. I’ve never met anyone that felt ambivalent about Mrs. Clinton, or who had not yet formed an opinion of her. She elicits a strong reaction, whether it be good or bad, from nearly everyone.

Becoming a polarizing person requires that one have a strong opinion on nearly every subject, and that one does not waver from their position in an effort to just “get along” with everyone. A forceful belief that you are right usually accompanies this personality. So it may come as a surprise to many that one of the most polarizing figures in history was Jesus Christ.

We live in an age where Jesus is often presented as a multi-cultural, infinitely-open-minded philosopher who went around spreading peace and goodwill to mankind. However, while Jesus wanted what was best and right for mankind, he did not compromise in his presentation of right and wrong. In his book The Truth War, John Macarthur exposes the new “emerging church” as a place where open-mindedness and uncertainty about what is right is actually treasured. He points out that “the idea that the Christian message should be kept pliable and ambiguous seems especially attractive to young people who are in tune with the culture and in love with the spirit of the age.” Indeed, it almost seems fashionable in some circles to deny that a single truth really exists.

But make no mistake about it, Jesus Christ was a tipping point for everyone who came in contact with him. Unlike the portrayals of him by some people today, Jesus insisted on pointing out his Father’s absolute truth to people. And his boldness in doing this caused people to either embrace him wholeheartedly…..or to walk away from him. In John 6:53-66, Jesus tells his disciples exactly what they must do to gain eternal life. Their response was to reply, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Instead of backpedaling in order to please his followers, Jesus says, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe." And the reaction to this was that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him”.

See also John 7:12 – “Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, "He [Jesus] is a good man." Others replied, "No, he deceives the people."” Clearly, Jesus had a decision-making effect upon people. It had to be hard for him to be so blunt, knowing that some would forever forfeit their future in heaven because they simply could not accept this teaching. They were not willing to give their lives into whatever service that God called them to, but were more interested in pursuing their own path. But when two different viewpoints meet which have polarizing points of view, the light of truth does not get through.

In my own life, I am growing more convinced that I must adopt a more polarizing approach to proclaiming God’s truth. It may cost me opportunities in a worldly sense, and it may be done at the expense of a friendship or two. People walked away from Jesus because he could not waver from the truth. And while it will never be my goal to purposely drive anyone away from what is right, it should not surprise me when it happens – if I truly teach as Jesus taught.

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