At age 16 I was so tenderhearted (and perhaps tenderheaded) that I could hardly bring myself to swat a mosquito. Instead of smashing the beasts to a bloody pulp, I would flick them off my arm with my index finger.
But my tenderheartedness was really only a product of having been raised in a virtually mosquito-free environment. As I became more involved in hiking and camping, I learned to swat first and ask questions later when I heard a high-pitched whine approaching. A move to an area of the country where it was impossible to work in the garden after 6 P.M. without donating a pint of blood confirmed me as the arch-nemesis of anything that even looked like a mosquito.
In carrying out my vendetta against the mosquito clan, I came to appreciate any ally who slew one of my enemies.
Thus snakes, frogs, toads, swallows, purple martins, dragonflies, and even farmers who poured oil on their back ponds were added to the cadre of those whom I considered friends.
It came as a bit of a surprise for me one day to discover that my friends weren't all friendly among themselves. It happened while I was visiting a farmer who had a purple martin house in his yard. It was spring, and both the mosquitoes and the dragonflies were out in full force. A clan of purple martins had occupied several rooms in the martin house and were busily flying about catching insects to feed their babies.
Being a bird-watcher, I walked over toward the martin house to see what my allies were up to. To my surprise, I discovered that they were bringing back huge mouthfuls of dragonflies to nourish their young.
Wait a minute, I thought. Something is wrong here. Why would the martins be eating dragonflies? They should be out catching mosquitoes instead! After all, the dragonflies are really their allies in the war against mosquitoes. And allies shouldn't eat each other.
Of course, a little reflection led me to realize that the incongruity of the situation lay more in my mind than in the actions of the martins. The birds were simply acting on a very natural instinct. They were making no mistake at all. A dragonfly is many times larger than a mosquito. And if the dragonfly had caught and eaten a dozen mosquitoes that day, then the martin was so much the richer for having caught the eater rather than the eatee.
I came to see that the supposed alliance I had formed around my desire to destroy mosquitoes was only a figment of my imagination. Both the birds and the bugs that feasted on my enemies did so for their own reasons, with no consideration of my desires.
Which all relates to something far more important than my personal hatred of mosquitoes. I also hate the devil and consider myself an ally of God. Yet I find that not all Christians I meet consider themselves my allies. In fact, I've found some to be positively hostile or defensive toward me. Worse yet, I've caught myself behaving in the same way toward other Christians.
No student of history or current events needs to be told that some of the fiercest and most prolonged conflicts on earth have been, and are being, fought between rival groups of Christians.
The problem is much the same as the one I discovered in the farmyard. While we Christians all proclaim ourselves to be enemies of Satan and even take a few swings at him now and then, in reality it is often easier to be pragmatic than spiritual. Like the purple martins, we only have a form of enmity against God's enemy. And if it's easier to strike a knockout blow against another Christian organization than against the devil, then we are too often willing to take the swing.
Of course we can find many justifications for taking the swing, not the least of which is doctrinal difference. I remember reading about thousands of Russian Christians being slaughtered by other Christians because of a difference of opinion about how many fingers to use in making the sign of the cross. Even today Christian factions in Lebanon and Ireland regularly bomb each other.
But these quintessential examples of Christian intolerance are not what concern me most. Such excesses are universally deplored as a disgrace to our Saviour by most Christians who are not directly involved.
Less dramatic, but equally disgraceful, examples of intolerance and self-alliance can be found in pulpits and pews throughout the world. I use the term self-alliance to describe the pragmatic attitude I observed in the martins. Self-allied preachers and people give an appearance, by certain works, of being allied with God in the war against Satan, while in reality they are allied only with themselves. Self-deceived, they relish pitched battle against opponents whom they identify as friends of Satan—after all, the reasoning goes, since I'm on God's side, my opponents must be on Satan's.
I don't mean to imply that all differences of opinion among Christians are insignificant or should be glossed over to produce a unified facade. Certainly dangerous, even demonic, doctrines are taught in the name of Christ. We must have the courage and fortitude to oppose these.
But what is even more important is that we be allied with God—that our forays into the field of conquest be motivated by a common alliance with Him, not by selfish desires for gain or the need to prove self right and opponents wrong.
With this common alliance we will be able to follow Paul's instructions found in Romans 14:1, "As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions" (R.S.V.). A Christian with a different perspective should be an ally, not an opponent.
If we all would concentrate on being genuine friends of God, we would have no time, energy, or desire to fight each other. And we'd have more success at fighting our real enemy.—K.R. W.