True story that happened just five minutes ago:
My office phone rings. I answer it. The guy on the other end (whom I don’t know and whose number was listed simply as “Private Caller”) asked me if I could “answer a Bible question”.
“I’ll give it a try!” I said in my normal goofy way.
This guy then proceeded to read Genesis 1:27, stressing that the pronoun used for the Creator is he (that is, singular). The guy then quickly fell into an angry diatribe about The Trinity. His question became an assault as he demanded to know if I believed in The Trinity and why and how I could consider myself a Christian if I did believe in The Trinity.
In the few instances I actually got to talk, I tried to explain that The Trinity (a word admittedly not found in the Bible) is our best attempt to convey the whole teaching of the Bible and that he was pushing pronouns far beyond the degree to which they were supposed to be pushed. He did not agree. In fact, he didn’t give me much chance to explain. Instead, every statement I made brought several rapid accusations from him. I then tried to tell him that I had been asked to answer a question, not have an argument. Finally, I hung up.
And I hated to do that. I tried to avoid doing that, in fact, because I knew if I did that he would claim some sort of victory. “That guy couldn’t answer any of my questions,” I can imagine him saying (after, of course, reframing the story to remove his aggressive interruptions and unwillingness to listen). “He just ran away from me.”
That bothers me. I’ve got a strong sense of justice. I hate what is wrong being called right (even if that wrong is mine). I didn’t want to give this person the chance to do that, and couldn’t stand the fact that I had given him the chance to do that.
Yet that’s what my faith often calls me to do. It may sound strange (especially if, like me, you come from a church/bible college background which presents debate as a spiritual practice), but it is true. The fact of the matter is that God doesn’t want us to argue and sometimes calls us to lose arguments. He tells us to throw in the towel when further fighting is ineffective and counterproductive and becoming ungodly.
My favorite example of this is in Jeremiah 28:
Jeremiah did not continue to trade blows with Hananiah. Rather, when he saw that Hananiah was just diatribing rather than dialoguing, he just walked away. He came back a little later to drop a personal word from the Lord on Hananiah, but he walked away from that first encounter. He did not continue to debate the false prophet in front of the crowds.
Jesus famously teaches something similar:
He did not instruct us to trade blows with those who reject us (and reject Him through rejecting us). He instructed us instead to “shake the dust off our feet” and move on.
On top of that, Paul tells Timothy:
Despite what I was taught in my home church and in Bible college, an argumentative spirit is not a Christ-like spirit. Debate is not a righteous spiritual discipline. It is the opposite, in fact. It is clearly not what God wants. It produces the opposite of what God wants. Arguments lead to several ungodly behaviors: anger, insinuation, insult, etc. It is so easy to fall into those things. I worry, in fact, that what I wrote above about my encounter with this guy skirts the border of those things. That’s why God doesn’t want us to argue. That’s why when it comes to arguments, even “spiritual” or theological or doctrinal arguments:
What does a “Lord’s servant” like me do in this strange game? Well, he has to lose. That’s what Jeremiah did. That’s what Jesus did on many occasions as well (such as in Luke 9 when He simply walked away from the village that rejected Him). That’s what Paul often did, too. And I guess that’s what I did. I couldn’t walk away from this guy literally, but I did hang up on him. I hung up on him as nicely as I could. I didn’t want to hang up on him since even that can be seen as aggressive, but that was about the best I could do in the situation, and I did it the best I could do it. I let myself lose, in other words. And that was the right thing to do. I might not like it, but that was the right thing to do.