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In every nook and corner or our lives, we are encouraged to pursue the compatible. We are told to find friends who are compatible with our interests, a job that is compatible with our gifts, a church that is compatible with our theology, and a spouse who is compatible all around! There is surely something wise in this. God wants us to enjoy his creation, and common sense suggests that we enjoy life more with compatible people in compatible settings.

At the risk of sounding like the Grinch, though, we are wise to think more deeply about why we're so enthralled with compatibility, for the Bible seems to suggest that compatibility is not always what it's cracked up to be.

As I noted: On the one hand, it is truly a good and blessed thing when people "dwell in compatibility," when they share interests, opinions, likes, and dislikes. On the other hand, to spend most of one's life with those who are compatible is to spend most of one's life in front of a mirror. We like people with whom we are compatible because we like people who are like us. We may think we are loving the compatible other when we are simply feeling good about them loving us. Compatibility can become a gazing on our own reflection, as in the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus.

The careful reader will have noticed that I fractured a biblical verse above. The biblical notion is that it is a blessed thing when men and women "dwell in unity" (Ps. 133:1). This is different than dwelling in compatibility, though we often mistake the latter for the former. Unity is in some ways the foil of compatibility. The greater the incompatibility, the more blessed, the more miraculous the unity. Unity can probe the deep mystery of love in a way that mere compatibility cannot. This is one reason the Bible is replete with encouragements to dwell in unity, and says little to nothing at all about compatibility.

Another bent reason we may be attracted to compatibility (again, along with the good reasons!): We don't relish having to practice charity. The more compatible we are with another, whether spouse or friend, the less we have to transcend our typical behavior. The more we are compatible with a job or a church, the less we are asked to go beyond ourselves. In our morally challenged state, we are reluctant to practice true charity, which inevitably entails self-denial and sacrifice. Charity requires being in relationship with people we don't particularly care for, as well as staying in institutions we find uncomfortable. Our usual apologetic for avoiding distasteful relationships or institutions is to say (in the former case), "We just don't have that much in common" or (in the latter case), "It's not a good fit for me."

But a moment's thought catches us up short, especially this time of year. This is the season in which we recall the One who was deeply incompatible with our nature—holy versus sinful; infinite versus finite; loving versus self-absorbed—and yet who made himself one with our nature. In this season, we celebrate the One who joined us though he was a bad fit for this world: the Master becoming a servant, the eternal and glorious God dying a shameful death. This, to put it in modern parlance, was not a good use of his natural gifts and talents.

It was, however, an expression of his "natural interests"—namely us. When we talk about how we share an interest with another, it usually amounts to a mutual like of some activity or topic of conversation. It rarely involves a mutual interest in other people, especially people who are incompatible with us. And yet this is Jesus' main interest, or better, his obsession.

In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today in Carol Stream, Illinois.
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