A few years ago a trivia game emerged called “Kevin Bacon and the Six Degrees of Separation.” The theory goes that in this game any actor could be linked through their acting roles to Kevin Bacon, a fellow actor, within six relationships. While this trivia game is fun for actors in Hollywood, there is a more serious game afoot amongst Christians - it is called, “Five Degrees to Separation.”
Over the last thirty years of shepherding people within the church, I have noticed a strange pattern develop in some relationships. There are five steps that people go through from living in relationship with each other to a disconnect and eventual separation. The progression takes place in this order : peace, suspicion, fear, judgment and then separation.
We start in a relationship at peace with each other. The peace brings with it hope and joy and the anticipation of a long and lasting relationship. Then something happens. The peace is disrupted and a tugging sense of suspicion about the other person begins to disrupt the equilibrium of peace. After the suspicion grows unchecked, fear sets in and we begin to self-protect from the fear of hurt or abandonment that our suspicion feeds upon. The fears motivated by what could happen become a judgement against the other person and once the judgement is in place we feel justified in separating ourselves from the person we used to live in peace with. Separation is the by-product of judgment.
How does this happen? I think it happens when you and I fail to protect the peace. We can protect the peace of God in our lives when we challenge the first knock of suspicion at the door of our relationships with other believers. When we hear that first suspicious knock we should go to the person we used to live in peace with and ask, “Why am I feeling this way?” Hell cannot breed in the light. When we bring a dark knock to the light of day, the one knocking will slink back into the shadows and not approach our door.
It doesn't take long to get from peace to separation. It can happen in a day. In fact, it can happen in minutes. Romans 12 tells us that, “as far as it is possible with us, be at peace with all people.” The “as far as possible” part means that in order for it to be possible we first have to do everything possible. That can mean rebuking the words of doubt in our mind that came from the dark side taking those thoughts captive, and walking them to the Cross where we put them to death. It can mean we get really serious about this and commit ourselves to bless someone each time we think of them, so the motivating spirit of separation will flee at our resistance. We have to be proactive and fight for the peace.
The test of whether or not we have lost peace with another believer can be found in the way we think about them and how we choose to relate to that person. There are some common attitudes that surround a work of separation:
We find that we no longer want to be around the person we are suspicious of.
We no longer live in honor with them and speak words of death, not life.
We begin to talk to others about them in secret – we make secret plans.
We entertain accusations without giving the other person a chance to respond.
We start to gather a following to agree with our suspicion and judgment.
We make plans to be gone from their life.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus broke down the barrier walls that separated us from God. When God's Spirit is present and we are walking in communion with Him, walls of separation come down. When we are not following God's lead walls of separation are built.
When I lived in Berlin, Germany, the remnants of the old Berlin Wall still lingered. That wall went up to separate people. In some cases the wall was built right through an apartment complex and divided life-long friends who had lived next door to each other for years. The wall was built unexpectedly one day and stayed in place for years. The day the Berlin Wall came down the city of Berlin, and the world celebrated.
The only way the walls between believers can come down is that we live in the open and honest environment of peace with each other and fight with all we have when the first knock of suspicion is heard upon our door. What is at risk is the peace of God. This peace is worth fighting for because once we experience it, we will never want to live without it. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is peace and where there is peace, believers dwell in unity with one another.