“These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19).
In these verses we have seven things which are an abomination to the Lord, and the introductory reference to “six, yea seven” draws our attention particularly to the seventh thing in the list.
So, what are the ways people “sow discord among brethren”? We can start with the first six things in the list — these things always cause conflict. But as we talked about it as a family this morning, a story from C.S. Lewis in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader came to mind. In it, Lucy was looking through a magic book:
A little later she came to a spell which would let you know what your friends thought about you. Now Lucy had wanted very badly to try the other spell, the one that made you beautiful beyond the lot of mortals. So she felt that to make up for not having said it, she really would say this one. And all in a hurry, for fear her mind would change, she said the words (nothing will induce me to tell you what they were). Then she waited for something to happen.
As nothing happened she began looking at the pictures. And all at once she saw the very last thing she expected – a picture of a third-class carriage in a train, with two schoolgirls sitting in it. She knew them at once. They were Marjorie Preston and Anne Featherstone. Only now it was much more than a picture. It was alive. She could see the telegraph posts flicking past outside the window. Then gradually (like when the radio is “coming on”) she could hear what they were saying.
“Shall I see anything of you this term?” said Anne, “or are you still going to be all taken up with Lucy Pevensie?”
“Don’t know what you mean by taken up,” said Marjorie.
“Oh yes, you do,” said Anne. “You were crazy about her last term.”
“No, I wasn’t,” said Marjorie. “I’ve got more sense than that. Not a bad little kid in her way. But I was getting pretty tired of her before the end of term.”
“Well, you jolly well won’t have the chance any other term!” shouted Lucy. “Two-faced little beast.” But the sound of her own voice at once reminded her that she was talking to a picture and that the real Marjorie was far away in another world.
“Well,” said Lucy to herself, “I did think better of her than that. And I did all sorts of things for her last term, and I stuck to her when not many other girls would. And she knows it too. And to Anne Featherstone of all people! I wonder are all my friends the same? There are lots of other pictures. No. I won’t look at any more. I won’t, I won’t,” and with a great effort she turned over the page, but not before a large, angry tear had splashed on it.
Lucy says a magic spell, and listens in on a friend’s conversation. She ends up deeply hurt. Later, she learns that her friend really loves her, but is weak and spoke out of fear rather than what she meant — but the damage has been done, and Lucy will never forget what she heard.
Who Sowed Discord in the Story?
Obviously, Anne Featherstone sowed discord. Her malice against Lucy motivated her to turn Marjorie against her friend. When we think of “sowing discord among brethren,” this is the kind of thing we usually have in mind.
Anne was not the only guilty party. Marjorie Preston, in her weakness, said words that brought conflict and pain. Even if Lucy hadn’t been eavesdropping, listening in to a private conversation, Marjorie’s words might have been repeated. The kind of person Anne is revealed to be in this story is the kind of person who will repeat words to inflict maximum damage. But even if Anne had been a nicer person, she could have inadvertently “spilled the beans,” or someone else might have overheard and repeated the words. We must learn to guard our tongues. Marjorie sowed discord, tossing a stone down a hillside heedless of how many loose stones there might be and whether she was starting an avalanche or not.
Lucy also contributed to the conflict. In her pride, she wanted to know what other people were saying about her. She neglected that basic principle that prevents so much trouble — Mind Your Own Business! Many, many conflicts would be averted if people weren’t so concerned about what others think about them. And many other conflicts would be prevented if we didn’t stick our nose into things that really are none of our business. If Lucy hadn’t “snooped”, she might never have known what Marjorie had said. Or perhaps, Marjorie would have confessed it to her later, strengthening their friendship by her honesty. Of course, anyone who has read the Narnia books knows that no one is ever told what WOULD have happened. 🙂
There is one more culprit here, one more discord-sower — the book. You may say, “Come on, Jon, it’s a magic book. That’s just part of a silly fictional story.” You would be right — and wrong. One of the most common ways Christians cause conflict is by acting like that magic book. We report things that we just should not report. It may be malicious false gossip, or it may be malicious truth that had no need to be reported, or it may be lying truth.
The book reported the truth to Lucy, didn’t it? It let her see exactly what her friend Marjorie was saying, and the context in which she said it, and that was true. But the book was a lying truth-teller, because it didn’t report the whole story. It didn’t reveal the fear and weakness. It portrayed Marjorie as spiteful, when she was not.
How often, when we “dish the dirt”, do we not reveal the whole story? How often do we really even understand the whole story? Wouldn’t it be better to just not reveal bad things at all unless there really is an important reason to do so? Whenever we report something bad about someone else, even if we have the facts straight, we run the risk of being “lying truth-tellers”, of not really giving a complete picture of what happened.
But beyond the risk of false portrayals, there is yet another question that needs to be asked — is there a need to know, or am I just opening my mouth about this so that I can feel important? If there is no need to know, I am probably sowing conflict — and that is an abomination to God.
I’m not talking about pretending sin doesn’t happen, and I’m certainly not talking about hiding the truth from those who have a legitimate need to know. I’m talking about refusing to “dish the dirt” just because we have the ability to do so.
Yet one more point on the book, and then I’m done. The book didn’t start by telling Lucy what her friend said. It drew her in. Sometimes, we will hint that we know something, whether we know it or not. It makes us feel important to have knowledge (that goes all the way back to Eve in the Garden of Eden, by the way). The book implied there was something to be known, something worth knowing. We should not set ourselves up as experts on other people, what they do, think, and say. We should not go around suggesting that we know more about someone else than the person to whom we are speaking knows. Those conversations usually end up in negative and unprofitable comments.
Few Christians are like Anne, maliciously sowing conflict, though we can fall into that trap. More often, we are weak, and give in to pressures of one kind or another, and we end up generating strife. Most often, we either proudly follow in Lucy’s footsteps, acting as if what others think about us is our business and important to know, or else we act like a magic book.
Sowing discord among brethren is an abomination to the Lord. May we, by God’s grace, not even get close to doing so.