I could see the crowd at the bottom of the valley. Men and women were gathered around others who were engaged in a tug of war. But to my horror, as I made my way closer, I could see that the heavy rope was not actually one piece. It was in two sections, and the ends of the ropes were tied to a man’s arms who was directly between the competing groups of men – twenty strong on each side. This game of tug of war would certainly end with the man in the middle being ripped in two.
“What is going on here?” I demanded. The crowd held me back, not letting me move a step closer. I saw a woman crying hysterically. I ran to her, barely threading my way through the watchful crowd.
I was now close enough to hear what the tug of war contestants were saying:
“It is the law that must be obeyed!” a man on the right side of the deadly contest yelled. “Man shall not steal! Man shall not…” Then all of the men on the right yelled, “So it is written, so shall it be! The law is the law. There is no room for falling away!”
I had finally reached the woman. She buried her face in my neck and cried out in agony, “He is my son!”
I heard the men to my left as they pulled the rope with a sudden burst of energy, “Judge not, lest ye be judged. Compassion is the foundation of what we believe. The law demands no condemnation.”
“He is your son?” I asked the woman. The man in the middle cried out in pain as the ropes pulled his arms and body back and forth. His wrist began to drip with blood and his eyes rolled back in his head.
“Yes, he is my son. They are tearing him apart. They each demand he follow their traditions, their rules.”
“Someone has to stop this!” I cried out, trying to run toward the man being tortured in the middle. The crowd grabbed me. One man punched me in the jaw. A woman kicked me in my shin and told me I had no right to interfere with the contest before me.
“Our enemies are to be destroyed completely! Just as the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites were defeated! It is God’s will!” the men to my right yelled in unison.
“Forgive not, and you purveyors of the law will suffer a greater wrath than those of us who embrace everyone as a brother!” the men on the left replied.
“Why are they doing this to him?” I asked the woman. “Why are they killing him?”
“Each group of men has only accepted a portion of what my son taught them,” the woman replied. “They refuse to believe law and compassion can share the same land. They each want to claim my son as their king.”
“Is he a king?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “He is even much more than a king. And he has given everything he has to show these people a better way. And look what they are doing to him!”
The woman’s heartache was more than I could bear. I fell to my knees and prayed for the scene playing out before me to end. The woman put her hand on my shoulder. Then she knelt beside me and began to pray with me. Then the man next to her knelt and prayed with us, and the man next to him. Then more people joined in. Eventually, the entire crowd surrounding the tug of war contestants was on their knees praying for an end to struggle.
The tug of war contestants noticed that only their voices and the cries of anguish from the man in the middle of their battle could be heard. They looked around them, astonished that the entire audience was kneeling in prayer.
The rope went slack. The man in the middle slumped to the ground, his forehead crashing down upon the dirt in front of him. He choked and gasped for air. The woman ran to him, cradling his head in her arms. She began to weep.
The men to my left and right, who had moments earlier been arrogantly assure of their battle cries, looked disoriented and exhausted. They turned and left the ropes lying on the ground where they had dropped them. I watched the two groups walk out of the valley and up into the mountains.
The others – the audience – was still bowing in silent prayer. I recognized the man who had punched me and the woman who had kicked me. They were praying right next to each other. When I turned to look back at the man and his mother, I was astonished to see that no one was there. Where there had once been a woman comforting an injured man, there was now just a solid tug of war rope lying on the ground.
I spun back around to ask others where the mother and son had disappeared to, only to discover I was alone in the valley.
I have spent many days asking God why I experienced this haunting vision of the misrepresentation of God’s word by men to serve our own selfish purposes. What answer have I received? God is both wrathful and forgiving; God wants us to follow the law and have compassion; and God’s word is final. Christians concerned with only the law are no better than Christians who preach only compassion. And, of course, the same holds true in the other direction.
So, no matter which side of the tug of war you think you are on, it is time to focus on preaching the Good Word that the God-Man in the middle of that rope brought to the valley!