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The great division

We live in a time of discerning who’s on which side


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I was invited, out of the blue, to the home of a woman for tea. Just she and I. She is a fellow worshipper at our local church with whom I have only infrequent contact—the occasional Saturday morning prayer meeting with a few other women, a social gathering at her farmhouse a year or two ago. Especially since the virus we have been almost entirely out of touch.

Doubtless she had been observing me awhile, for I was not in the house five minutes before she said, while preparing the tea, “I’ll put it right out there: I voted for _______.” I replied that I had too and added that it was good to get it on the table and have it over with, to defray the tension.

The tension needs no explaining. It is the subterranean dis-ease in every human interaction in these times—the question of which “side” the other is on, of whether our interlocutor is one of “them” or one of “us.” Of whether it is safe to talk.

George Orwell captures this social dis-ease in his dystopian 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four when describing the office dynamics between protagonist Winston Smith and a colleague in the Ministry of Truth:

“The other person was a man named O’Brien, a member of the Inner Party and holder of some post so important and remote that Winston had only a dim idea of its nature. … He felt deeply drawn to him. … Because of a secretly held—or perhaps not even a belief, merely a hope—that O’Brien’s political orthodoxy was not perfect. … He had the appearance of being a person that you could talk to if somehow you could cheat the telescreen and get him alone.”

Gradually some Christians discerned a different spirit in the Führer.

I am amused to recall the ease with which the question of who is on your side was settled on one occasion more than three millennia ago. Gilead defeated Ephraim in war, and as the losing Ephraimites tried to make their escape across the Jordan, Gileadite soldiers seized the fords of the river. When any Ephraimite came and said, “Let me cross over,” the Gileadite would ask, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied no, the Gileadite would say, “Pronounce Shibboleth.” And if he was an Ephraimite he would say Sibboleth, because he could not pronounce Shibboleth. And they would kill him (Judges 12). Very efficient.

Speaking of “sides,” Eric Metaxas writes in his masterwork Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: “In 1933 … most pastors were quite convinced that Hitler was on their side, partly because he had a record of pro-Christian statements.”

Gradually some Christians discerned a different spirit in the Führer, and the incompatibility of his National Socialism with Biblical Christianity, while others were beguiled and met the fate of the frog in the pot. The result was a church split—the “Confessing Church” (of which Bonhoeffer was a part) and the “German Church,” which stuck with Hitler.

That is the one good thing about mounting pressure: It has the effect of making things clear that were ambiguous and incipient before. It brings to the surface what was latent, “so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35).

“There must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized,” says Paul (1 Corinthians 11:19). We see in hindsight which faction in Deutschland was genuine and are grateful that the entire German church did not go headlong off the cliff.

I have been shaken to see the increase of lawlessness in our nation (Matthew 24:12). With each incremental worsening I thought, “Now everyone will see how wicked these people are! This is surely the evidence that will persuade them!” But that did not happen. I was wrong. I had not remembered an important story in Scripture:

Jesus raised a dead man named Lazarus from the grave, the most compelling evidence of His deity to date. Rather than persuading the Pharisees, it hardened them.

That day they made their plans to kill the Lord.

—This column has been updated to correct the date of the war between Gilead and Ephraim described in Judges 12.


Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her commentary has been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides in Philadelphia, Penn.

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