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How do you deal with people with whom you strongly disagree? Increasingly, or at least so it seems, we seek to cut them off and out of our life, giving them with derogatory names or labels. While it might not be conscious, such efforts are dehumanizing, seeking to overlook, deny or eliminate their humanity. Theologically doing so means that we deny the ways in which our neighbor (like us) is also created in the image of God. Today we call such opponents “socialist,” “fascist,” or other names picking up on notions of exclusion. In the text the author calls the opponents of the community “antichrist(s)”. If you google that word you’ll find many images of both Presidents Obama and Trump. It makes me wonder if our opposition to those who we identify as our enemies isn’t a form of idolatry, in which we merely remake the world in our image, excluding what we don’t like or want.
We enter into the meaty part of the religious tract we call 1 John. Chapters 2 and 3 begin to deal more specifically with the problems facing the community.. There are some, most likely teachers, among them who are called antichrists. They seem to be teaching that Jesus is something more than what they had all understood from the beginning of their faith. It most likely was related to docetism, the philisophical-religious belief that the spiritual is separate and always superior to the physical. This thought could lead to a rejection of the earthly Jesus as divine, or even delegitimize the importance of living faith out in the world in physical actions. These opponents are identifiable in that they do not love as Jesus loved, they seem to say one thing and do another, remembered for their words and lack of action.
I wonder if we misunderstand faith because we all too often judge faith as something you have or don’t have. The author uses the language of Jesus to talk about faith as a relational dynamic, repeating with deepening meaning the use of the word “abide.” It harkens back to John 15 and the metaphor of the living connection between a vine and its branches for the ways in which we live, move and have our being in God through a relationship with Christ. Plant growth ebbs and flows, dormant at times, then burgeoning at others. But without connection to the life-sustaining sap located in the vine or the trunk, the plant cannot, will not grow towards harvest or flowering: the purpose of its existence. Linguistically the word “devil” means “the one who divides” – which is exactly against what the author of 1 John warns.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation