This week my daughter spent the bulk of her week working on state standardized tests. These tests are a big deal in our schools with teachers stressing over them as much if not more than the children. As a result, many, many hours have been spent in preparation for test day. It's not just third graders who take tests. Much of our lives are spent taking exams. There's all those tests in school, entrance exams, exit exams, licensing exams, etc. Like I said, there are a lot of tests in life. For every test we take there are even more hours spent preparing for those tests.
It's understandable that many Christians approach the Christian life as if it is one big exercise in test preparation. They spend countless hours and endless effort trying to figure out all the right doctrinal answers to every conceivable theological question. Because this is the preparation period, they often compare notes. The stress must be high, because when two of them disagree on an answer, they can get very upset with each other. Friendships have been severed, churches have been split, and wars have begun over two people, both committed Christians, arriving at different answers to some theological question.
Now, thinking right thoughts about God is important, but from what I can tell, there's no extensive entrance exam (or exit! depending on your perspective) when we finish this life other than whether or not we have acknowledged Christ as Lord. While lots of the topics we discuss and disagree over are important, they pale in comparison to God's chief concern for our lives: that we love one another.
Take for instance Paul's discussion in Romans 14-15 concerning the issue of whether or not Christians should be able to eat certain foods or not. This was a big issue in Paul's day. Paul had a strong opinion about that topic. He believed that there were no dietary restrictions for any Christians. And yet, in these chapters, Paul recognizes that there were Christians who held a different position than he did. Remarkably, Paul didn't spill much ink attempting to convince these Christians to think like he thought. Instead, he writes to the people who already shared his opinion challenging them to show deference to those who held a different opinion!
At least in the example provided in Romans 14-15, at the end of the day what mattered most wasn't one's answer to the test question, but whether or not one had practiced love towards your neighbor. That's a far cry from the way so many of us approach theological questions or even the Christian life as a whole.
What difference would it make in our lives if we thought of the Christian life primarily as the practice of loving one another instead of a life spent practicing for some final, cosmic exam?