“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
There you have it. God’s genius, laid out in a simple three-letter word in the very first verse of the Holy Bible: and.
God created heaven and earth. Light and dark. Male and female. From the very beginning, the Master Creator has been all about “and,” a small function word we use to connect words or phrases. It denotes inclusiveness and sometimes difference, but always, always connection. It’s what makes and so powerful.
God, in His wisdom, created the world and everything within it to be different. He made sure no two people were exactly alike, to the point of giving each human being a unique fingerprint. He made sure no two bodies of water or landforms or animals were exactly alike. Everything He made, everything around us, is different—divinely different.
Living among and with differences is what makes our world so beautiful. It’s how God intended it to be—spirit and body, pleasure and pain, joy and sadness, life and death. Living with differences is this life. It’s core to God’s plan in helping us to become who He intends us to become. It’s how we live and learn. And we all know that isn’t always easy to do.
What Would Jesus Do?
If learning to live with differences is part of God’s plan, there must be a blueprint to know how to navigate the complexities of living with opposites, opposition, and differing opinions. For us today, the gospel of Jesus Christ is that blueprint.
During His mortal life, Jesus Christ, the holiest of us all, could have done what was logical and stuck with those who loved Him and were most like Him. But He didn’t. He touched, helped, and healed those with physical differences that made them social outcasts. He dined with men regarded as liars, cheats, and sinners and was judged harshly by the Pharisees for doing so. When questioned by them about His choice of guests, He said, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).
When the Pharisees asked Him to condemn a woman caught in adultery, He taught a valuable lesson about not “casting stones” because none of us are perfect. But it’s in how He responded to her that we learn the real lesson. He didn’t shirk from correcting; He said, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). So we shouldn’t shirk from standing up for the commandments and correcting when necessary. But He also didn’t condemn her either. In that act, He showed loving kindness. And that’s the lesson we can all learn. Do we correct in kindness or condemn with contention?
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we commit to follow Him and His example. While the natural man is inclined to judge, condemn, and be contentious, the divine within each of us can help us to love, to forgive, and to give people a chance. It’s what Jesus would do.
Agree to Disagree
Liars, cheats, enemies, those who despitefully use and persecute us—they’re not the easiest to love. Likely, we won’t agree with them and what they stand for and they won’t agree with what we believe and what we stand for. But that’s our right—on both sides—because we all have free will. We all have the right to choose, and the consequences, good or bad, will inevitably follow. In this life, we can agree that we will disagree. But, as taught by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable.”
“Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs,” said Elder Oaks. “Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. … We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: ‘Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them’ (Matthew 7:12).”
Ye Are the Light of the World
As Jesus taught us through His associations and interactions, you don’t have to resemble others to respect them and to show loving kindness. In this ever-increasingly divided world in which we live, where “interest groups, political camps, cultural factions and religious organizations are advancing their own vision of good,” differences will persist. It’s just life. But as followers of Jesus Christ, if we are to be the “light of the world,” a beacon of goodness, we need to do as the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us. We need to love, be kind, avoid contention, be patient, reserve judgment for God, and forgive—over and over again.
Shining as a beacon to the world, amidst the storms of our day and the imperfections we deal with as humans, is not easy. We can’t shine alone. That’s where the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ comes in. As we pray in faith, He will help us to become more than we are, to see others as more than what they may appear to be, and to respect those who are different than we are and trust that maybe we can learn something from our fellow travelers in this world. Perhaps in knowing them we learn tolerance, empathy, compassion, patience, and ultimately how to love like God. We’re different for a reason.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught this beautifully when he said: “While the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. … We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God.”
That’s not true, he said, and it contradicts what we’re trying to do here in the Church of Jesus Christ, in acknowledging and protecting everyone’s right to choose and recognizing and celebrating that we’re a collection of people with different cultural, social, and political preferences.
“The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples,” said President Uchtdorf.
Lift and strengthen others. Not belittle and put down. Not complain and criticize. In our everyday dealings with others in person, in group settings, and on social media, we can always choose the higher road. We can always choose civility. We can always choose loving kindness. We can always seek understanding. And we can always, always pray for help to do it.
Heaven and earth. Good and evil. Light and dark. The “ands” aren’t going away—in this life or the next. So embrace it. Recognize that living with differences is part of God’s plan for us. We’re never going to be the same. We’re not always going to agree. And that’s OK. There will always be different circumstances we can’t control. But we can always choose how we respond. Jesus Christ is our teacher and helper in that regard. He, more than anyone else, understands what it’s like to be opposed and oppressed, to live among opposites, and to respond to differing opinions of the day.
We can find hope in Him. We can find help in Him. It’s how we’ll truly live and learn.