By Jay Mātenga |

Nga mihi ki te hunga e whai ana i to rātou whainga… (Greetings to everyone who is pursuing their purpose),

After seven years of drawing contemporary missional meaning and social commentary from whakataukī (Māori proverbs), this post concludes the theme. The next post will use a passage of Scripture as the starting point for commentary that seeks to strengthen our participation in God’s mission—while continuing to do so through an indigenous lens. For this final contribution, however, the whakataukī is: “He aroha te whakapiri, he mate i te whakatakariri” (Love unites, but anger separates).

It should come as no surprise that Māori whakataukī or proverbs tend to be aspirational, even if they also contain a warning. After all, Māori are guided by a strongly collectivist values set. That which is treasured in this world is that which strengthens our relationship bonds—to one another, to our habitats, to the unseen spiritual world around us. There is no greater threat to collectivist values than that which would seek to separate or divide the group. The whakataukī above describes this as simply as any. Aroha, loving kindness and mutual affection, bonds us together. The word for unity or bond is whakapiri, which evokes the idea of something glued together. Laminated. A watertight seal. In contrast, whakatakairi is the state of being angry, outraged, or indignant. Anger is a legitimate emotion of course, especially when it is a response to injustice, but left unaddressed it becomes problematic. The common English translation of the second half of the proverb is quite mild. The word “mate” is much stronger than “separates”, it is literally death. Anger is a pathway to death. But the collectivist world sees little difference. To separate is to die.

Antichrists are those who have left the vine, become separate from the family of God.

“For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine” John 15:4 (NLT). John amplifies this concept in his first epistle (1 John 2:18-19) where he discusses the reality of the Antichrist and antichrists. Curiously, these are not people who are persecuting the Church. In John’s understanding, antichrists are those who have left the vine, become separate from the family of God. Presumably because they had “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT) rather than the eternal purposes of God. But they remain a negative influence on God’s people, as false prophets (1 John 4:3b NLT). Such people are cast as liars who deny/renounce the Father and the Son and thereby have become antichrists (1 John 2:22 NLT). They have become unfaithful to the holy fellowship of believers through their desires, words, and actions. They act in the spirit of the Antichrist and “you can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (Matthew 7:16 NLT). And Jesus said that way is ultimately the way of death.

In a Māori cosmovision (view of reality), separation equals death, unity generates life. Anger and disagreement are not automatically grouped with the former, but if they are prolonged and turn bitter, with a refusal to accept or be satisfied with appropriate reconciliation, they have great potential to be destructive. Handled well, they can lead to communal transformation—to life. The spirit of the Antichrist does not seek life. That is God’s purpose. Forces that oppose God, that accuse the people of God, that steal, kill, and destroy, seek only destruction. But even this resistance to life is a strengthener of life. That is the great mystery of opposition, hardship, and suffering. But it must be processed adequately, toward wellbeing and away from toxicity.

We are being herded into tribal camps, based on opinions that now feel like they are life or death options.

I firmly believe there is a spirit at work in the world today that is deeply destructive. It is a spirit that promotes wedges that divide, driving us further and further apart from one another over issues that barely 5 years ago might have been dismissed as the stuff of social banter. We are being herded into tribal camps, based on opinions that now feel like they are life or death options—existential non-negotiables. It seems that tolerance is a convenience we can no longer afford. It is happening between nations, within nations between those with differing socio-political convictions, between family members, and theologically within the people of God in Christ. As Fritz Breithaupt explains in his book The Dark Sides of Empathy, much of the horror in this world is not because of the lack of empathy but because of the intensity of empathy, usually for the group with which we identify. The problem, with social empathy at least, is an extreme identification with a particular tribal creed over against all others. It is an in-group empathy that is more often than not conditioned by a repulsion for a particular out-group who we grow to hate. We are too easily drawn into a very black and white, binary, simplistic bias that refuses to appreciate the complexity of situations and rejects opportunities to work toward understanding. They are the enemy, we have a righteous cause, end of story. Us versus them becomes the basis for identity, the reason for one’s very existence.

In my recent visit to South Korea I experienced two quite different perspectives on North Korea from the Christians I conversed with. On one hand there is the view that North Korea would need to fail completely and the State collapse before there could be a reunification. Positioning oneself and one’s church for this eventuality is not an attitude of reconciliation. It is a posture of superiority, one that is waiting to impose ideals onto a subdued other. On the other hand, I met Korean believers who are working hard to keep ‘humanising’ their North Korean brothers and sisters to their South Korean friends and family, with the expectation that reunification will need to honour the dignity and values of the North while conceding some of the problematic aspects of the South. They anticipate the need to co-create a new united Korea within the tensions of the two political ideologies (centralised control in the North, commercialised control in the South). Division in the peninsula is merely 70 years old. Both populations share a common history, both remain largely collectivist, but historic values are expressed differently in contemporary political ideology. A great opportunity exists there for the development of a completely new political reality if the two are ever able to overcome their non-negotiables. May the Lord make it so.

Back in the Western hemisphere, one of the interesting things about the nature of political empathies is that, whether left or right, as they become more extreme, they each arc in a horseshoe effect toward a similar conclusion: total control. These days it can be difficult to work out what is a politically right agenda item and what is left. It used to be that the right (individualistic) wanted more personal responsibility and free market for individual gain, whereas the left (collectivist) wanted more state control and regulation for the good of the whole. Relatively simple. As we have seen in the recent elections in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is not nearly so straight forward today. Identity issues have entered the mix. The left now looks more libertarian and the right more conservative when it comes to personal politics. So, the left is much more individualistic, and the right somewhat more collectivist. Yet, taken to their extremes, both ultimately want to control society according to their agenda, the goals informed by their particular values.

Without resistance, power in any form of relationship leads to unhealthy control that is more likely to benefit some at the expense of others.

As I write, protests are frustrating commuter traffic in major centres around our nation in response to a political shift that threatens to dishonour the dignity and wellbeing of a significant sector of society and diminish the importance of our central founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi). Without resistance, power in any form of relationship leads to unhealthy control that is more likely to benefit some at the expense of others. Such power rarely has everyone’s wellbeing in mind nor a balanced view of the common good. The antidote to excessive control is resistance toward a renegotiated social contract or relational agreement, and peaceful protest is a legitimate part of such a process. Only within wisely tuned tension between opposing positions can a healthy way forward be found for the benefit of all. That requires a willingness to invest time to seek understanding, build trust, and find agreement on shared values that can co-create a more positive future for all. This is what the Bible calls reconciliation.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul describes our participation in the mission of God as a ministry of reconciliation. He says that we may long for our transformed bodies, but it is what we do in the meantime, in our earthly bodies that will be a source of judgement before Christ. His own ministry defence aside, he notes some attributes that are required to conduct a ministry of reconciliation effectively.

  • We are only to be controlled by the love of Christ (not the love of an ideology, dogma, tribe, ethnicity or even doctrine).
  • Our former allegiances are considered dead (along with anything else that destroys relationships).
  • Life together is only found in following the way of Christ (marked by the character of Christ/fruit of the Spirit).
  • We have ceased evaluating and judging anyone from a human point of view (whether in or outside our faith).

New Creation… does not refer to the individual but to the fact that people from diverse backgrounds are dwelling together in shalom harmony.

These are the basic prerequisites of a biblical understanding of reconciliation, necessary for the process of relationship building (which includes legitimate disagreement, protest, resistance) to take place in a way that leads to unity in diversity. This is the process of co-creating New Creation. Theologian Tom Wright interprets 2 Corinthians 5:17 to mean that, for everyone ‘in Christ’, New Creation (aka the shalom Kingdom of God) is manifest in their midst (cf. Matthew 18:20). New Creation here does not refer to the individual but to the fact that people from diverse backgrounds are dwelling together in shalom harmony (Holy Spirit tuned tension), a new social reality—this is the biblical view of reconciliation, and it is only possible in Christ.

It should be said that helping people over the threshold of the Kingdom, from darkness (ignorance) to light (understanding), via penitent allegiance to Christ, is only the beginning. The atonement is just the start of the gospel and becoming a disciple is just the start of a process. We must be sure to live the WHOLE gospel. The shaping of disciples in community for the benefit of society is the real work of the Kingdom. Once we are in Christ, we immediate start participating in the co-creating of New Creation as part of the body of Christ, for the transformational benefit of our societies, as witnesses to the world of the power of Christ for the glory of God. This is too often missed out of the gospel narrative when we exhort people to follow Jesus. It is right that they must become allegiant to Jesus as an individual, but that allegiance pledges them to a community of faith, which exists to do good in the world (cf. Gal 6:10, 1 Thess 5:15, 1 Tim 6:18, Titus 3:14, 1 Pet 2:21ff, 3 Jn 1:11). 

As we actively and attentively wait in the time between Jesus’ first and second advents, hope in anything else, any other allegiance, is a false hope—an antichrist hope. Jesus’ cosmovision is the only common good capable of unifying a fractured humanity, because only Jesus can provide the kenotic (mutually self-denying) power necessary to achieve it, which comes to those who follow Him by the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ way both affirms the attributes of our human identity and asks us to be willing to lay them aside in service of the whole (cf. Philippians 2:5-11).

This is the good news that is cause for great joy for all people declared by the angels at the first advent. The good news about the One who can, has, and will bring peace — satisfying both individual and collective aspirations. Only Christ’s love, enabled by the Spirit, can laminate us to each another to form a singular whole (cf. John 17:18-26). Submission to Christ and commitment to the way of Jesus is the only solution for a fractured world today. This is the gospel all people in this world need an opportunity to hear, understand, and embrace as we look to His second coming. As Christ’s ambassadors, we must remain committed to this and nothing else as we co-labour and co-create in our efforts to #stayonmission.

The views expressed in this or any other opinion article do not necessarily reflect the views of Christian Daily International.