As Mike and I talked about church shopping and small group hopping, we dreamed about what a small group could look like if it were more diverse. What would bind them together? Commitment? A common vision? What would compel them to work through conflict, to keep coming back?
Then, I said to him: “But then, isn’t the unifying aspect just a commitment to diversity? Doesn’t it just become an affinity for diversity? If a small group is put together in the interest of acceptance and reconciliation, isn’t that just another way of categorizing them?” Sure it’s a noble purpose, one everyone would support these days. But underneath, it’s the same old affinity. Even in this “ideal” small group, we were back to trying to avoid affinity and subvert selfishness.
We have the option in the U.S. not to live with people who aren’t like us. Thus, diversity itself becomes optionalized. It’s just another matter for our desires to decide. Affinity. We couldn’t get around it.
A few weeks later I sat down at Chipotle, where all great mysteries are given light.
I sat down outside, enjoying some of the last warm days of November before winter settled in. Off to my right, at a table for four sat two girls and two guys. The first girl looked to have a Latino heritage, the second a European one. The one guy was Asian, and the other was Arab, complete with a turban and a surprisingly dirty mouth. I sat listening to them laugh about something or other. They were the most diverse group I’d ever witnessed, and they seemed to genuinely enjoy being together.
I gawked at this diversity anomaly for a while. And I thought about it from a spiritual standpoint. While outwardly, these 4 seemed to embody diversity, inwardly their affinity embodied unity. They valued the same things, laughed at the same things. After all, our commonalities bring us together far more often than our differences do.
I think the same is true as we relate to God, who is most unlike us (“wholly other,” Tozer wrote). Our affinity, our desire, is what shapes us more like him. It gives us common ground to connect on. The more we become like him, the nearer we approach him (Lewis writes of this in The Four Loves). “Be holy, for I am holy,” he said. Holiness is a value of God’s. If we are going to approach him, we must become like him. We must be holy too. (It was our differences that separated us from God in the first place.)
In becoming like God (Eph 5:1) it’s not so much about always knowing the right things but about loving the right things. It’s not so much about knowing what to do but about knowing what’s important. It means knowing which decisions we can leave to others and which ones we must make ourselves.
I think what it means is loving what God loves and hating what God hates*. I think that’s part of what God meant when he said, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” God doesn’t much care for what we say but where our hearts are. We can know all the right things, but if we don’t love the right things we are nothing.
Do we love the same things God does?
In 1 John 4:7-17, John writes “anyone who does not love does not know God.” If we are going to have God’s priorities, then we must begin with loving too. Jesus clarified this better when he instructed us to love God and love people, our first two priorities. At the end of his famous chapter on love (1 Cor 13:11-12), Paul says that this sort of love will, in the end, transform us, indeed make us like God.
And it makes sense. John argues the same thing in 1 John 4. As we begin to mirror God’s priorities—loving the way God loves, loving what God loves—we begin to know God, to be like him, to approach him.
*God doesn’t just love everything without discrimination. One time he said, “I hate divorce!” and another time, “Jacob I have loved. But Esau I hated.” So it’s not as simple as saying, “If I love, I’ll be connected with God,” as if just the act of loving something is what’s important.