By Scott Keith –
President Ronald Reagan is often credited with coining the so-called eleventh commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.” Reagan used the term many times to discourage infighting within the GOP. I think that there is something to be learned from Reagan’s insistence on knowing when and with whom to pick a fight. A quick scan of the good ole Interweb––even (perhaps especially) when scrolling through “churchy” sites––will indicate we are all obsessed with eating our own.
For some reason, it seems that our favorite pastime is attacking those closest to us. Republicans refuse to support Donald Trump; Democrat higher-ups were even caught attempting to derail the campaign of everyone’s favorite Socialist, Bernie Sanders. Politics, though, is not limited to the political arena. My own beloved LCMS just finished its convention this past summer, and in defense of one presidential candidate over the other, a veritable feast was made of clergy and laymen alike publicly eating their own.
Further, blogs like this one and others seem to be the worst. Any quick survey of blog sites will reveal opinion after opinion and unfounded conjecture after conjecture, purporting to proclaim the truth in love while attempting to destroy those in their own house for the sake of fifteen seconds of fame. President Theodore Roosevelt, referred to the White House as a “bully pulpit,” by which he meant a terrific platform from which to advocate an agenda. A bully pulpit is a conspicuous position that provides an opportunity to speak out and be listened to. For a long time, the only persons who had the “bully pulpit” were those who were famous or those who could attain for themselves media attention. Now everyone has the media and the Internet at their fingertips, and all are seeking to be Internet famous. Often, this Internet fame takes the form of eating their own.
In my little theological world, I notice this the most when it involves supposed theological issues. It’s often easily forgotten that theological giants, who could be either right or wrong on certain matters, lived lives that colored not only what they said but how and why they said what they did. Incorrect doctrine ought to be corrected. We should gauge each teaching by Scripture and from Scripture alone critique what is wrong and proclaim what is good, right, and salutary. But in the process, we might occasionally consider heading Luther’s words in his explanation of the eighth commandment.
In his Small Catechism under the explanation of the Eighth Commandment, Luther clarifies something crucial. The Eighth Commandment (as numbered by Lutherans) is: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Now, on its surface, this means that we are simply not to lie about or neighbor. Easy enough, right? Well, Luther was (as Christ was) pretty good at pulling the real Law out of our surface level perception of the Law. In his explanation, Luther says: “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”
So, when answering the age old question “What is this?” or “What does this mean?”, Luther certainly acknowledges avoiding the negative, or as I like to call it, the easy part. We certainly ought not to lie about our neighbor or call him something he is not. But then comes the hard question. So what are we to actually do, then? “…but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”
We have a hard time even speaking well of our friends, let alone our generic “neighbor.” How are we expected to “put the best construction” on what those ignorant fools, or even well-meaning friends, have to say? The task is too great, Lord, that you would let this cup pass from me. The task seems to be too great.
So what now? Well, I could say that it should be easy for us to treat friends like friends and not foes. I ought to say that it is well within all of our power to treat those we love in a kindly way rather than seeking their public destruction. I should say that we all need to knock it off and get our shit in order; straighten up and fly right.
Furthermore, I want to say those things. I want to believe that those that profess to be my friends will act like my friend. I want to believe that I’ll wake up next to my wife every morning and put the best construction on every word that rolls off of her tongue. I want you to, and I want this for myself to stop eating our own.
I think that Ronald Reagan professed to be a Christian, though I confess I have no clue regarding his faithfulness. Nonetheless, whether he was the greatest Christian ever or even a nominal Christian, he seemed to hit the nail on the head when focusing on his eleventh commandment; let us not eat our own. The devil wants nothing more than to sow discord among us; let us not eat our own. The world is more and more out to assail us; let us not eat our own. Our own sinful flesh desires for us to be on top and our neighbor beneath us; let us not eat our own.
I know we will. I know I will. Again, the task seems to be too great. So where do we go from here? Well, the cup of perfect obedience to the eighth commandment and the all of the Law has truly passed from us and has been given to Christ. Our cry to let the cup pass is answered yes, while His is a resounding no. He has taken the cup of our affliction. He has taken our sin and death upon Himself. He has decided to be “eaten” so that those we desire to destroy with our self-righteous sanctimony might live. He is the Word become flesh, and He has dwelt among us full of grace and truth.
His death is our life, and His resurrection gives us hope in our own life eternal with Him. We are yet sinners. “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” His satisfaction for us has given us a new hope such that the Apostle Paul and others can exhort us to “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” In this, we will fail, but it is that grace that Paul asks us to share that gives us life again on account of Christ alone.
Why eat our own when such a meal never satisfies? We look forward to the feast that will never end when we sit at Lamb’s great high feast.