In the book Lone Survivor, which I’ve blogged about here and here, author Marcus Luttrell wrote about the very intense training he and his fellows went through to become SEALs. It began with boot camp, then those who who’d signed up/been accepted for SEAL training were moved to Coronado Island for the initial two week training phase they call Indoctrination. “Indoc” prepares them for the seven month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs (BUD/s) course to follow. Of the 164 men who’d been assigned to Marcus’s Class 226, more than fifty had dropped out during Indoc, about which Marcus reflected,
“I know a few never showed up at all, mostly through sheer intimidation. But the rest had somehow vanished into the void. I never saw any of them leave, not even my roommate.”
Having read through his Indoc experiences, I wasn’t surprised, since he’d been wholly occupied with getting through it himself. It made me think, too, about another aspect of the Christian life I’ve been reflecting on lately — the command we’re given in God’s word to separate from friends, loved ones, situations, even geographical locations that are hindering our spiritual growth, pulling us down, pulling us back into the cosmic system.
I Thess 3:14 tells us not to associate with those who do not obey Paul’s doctrines, including those who lead “undisciplined” lives. 2 Ti 3:5 instructs us to avoid those who have a form of godliness but have denied its power, and Ro 16:17,18 warns us away from those who bring in “dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching we’ve received.” And then, of course there is the fool in Ps 14:1 who says in his heart (but not necessarily with his lips) that there is no god. Pro 13:20 adds, He who walks with wise men will be wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.
And if that’s not clear enough, Ps 101:6 says, My eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me; He who walks in a blameless way is the one who will minister to me. He who practices deceit shall not dwell in my house; He who speaks falsehood shall not maintain his position before me.
These are clear commands. Unfortunately the execution of them is not always so easy. Even leaving aside the consideration of how to know if someone is a fool or is leading an “undisciplined life,” the very process of making such a determination can lead one into the sin of judging.Given that judging is a sin that often feels very right and very justified, it can be difficult to know if one is sinning or exercising the discernment born of wisdom in attempting to apply the command to separate.
One of the most helpful concepts I’ve come across is the idea that we don’t separate from , we separate to. Separating from can all too easily devolve into thoughts like: “Ah, that person believes something other than what I’ve been taught. They are doing things that the Bible doesn’t condone. They are not getting doctrine everyday. In fact they are not getting doctrinal teaching at all. They are a fool! I must separate!” (And it almost seems like I should add at this point, “Thank you, Lord for not making me a fool like them.” as per the self-righteous Pharisee in Luke 18)
Separating to, however, is more like what Marcus described in his Indoc training: you are so focused on the word, so focused on God’s calling for your life, so focused on just working out your own salvation with fear and trembling, you don’t have time or mental energy to concern yourself with what others are doing. If they struggle along beside you — wonderful. You can help each other and develop a bond and a growing intimacy. If they stop coming alongside, you’ll barely notice, too occupied with your number one priority which is the Word of God, which God Himself has magnified above his very own name. Ps 138:2