Something interesting about human nature is that we tend to gravitate towards people who are like us—people with whom we have things in common. My wife and I were married in 2001. After we were married, we went to live in Chicago area. The first two couples we became friends with were other newly married Christian couples our age. This kind of thing is often the case. Young married couples tend to hang out with young married couples. College students tend to hang out with other college students. Old guys who play pool hang out with old guys who play pool.
And it’s not just that we connect with people who are in our same stage of life. We connect to others along socio-economic lines, ethnic lines, political lines, or along the lines of some subculture. Wealthy people tend to hang out with other wealthy people. It’s not that they’re snobbish or unwilling to associate with people who don’t have as much wealth. We simply tend to pursue relationships with people who are like us. In fact, the blue-collar guy who might not have any material wealth to speak of is probably no more interested in building a friendship with some rich guy than the wealthy guy is in building a relationship with him.
We do it along ethnic lines. In urban areas within the United States, where there is a lot of ethnic diversity, there are often Latino neighborhoods, Indian neighborhoods, Greek neighborhoods, and so on. Latinos tend to hang out with other Latinos. And it’s not that they’re racist. Imagine you had a job opportunity and relocated to Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil. You might find that there are a number of other Americans living and working there. You might make some connections with these Americans. They might help with to know where to buy groceries, where to go and where not to go in the city, what to say and what not to say, etc. You might find a church there where they speak English during their services, perhaps the pastor is even a Westerner. In this kind of situation, you can see how it might come about that your closest friends in Brazil would be Americans. Again, it’s not because your racist or you don’t like Brazilians. It’s just that we naturally tend to gravitate towards people who are like us.
The question is, why? Why is it that we are often attracted to people who are like us and we don’t as naturally build relationships with people who are different than we are?
Part of the reason is found in what we sometimes seek in our relationships. If my neighbor is much older than I am, perhaps he has different tastes in music, movies, food, and other things, that relationship might not happen quite as naturally as it might if we had more in common. Maybe I like to talk church, certain hobbies I’m interested in, sports, politics, and other interests. He likes to talk about his grandchildren, what he’s growing in his garden, and the good ole days when he served in the oil fields of East Texas. Neither he nor I are very interested in what the other has to say. This is partly because, in my heart of hearts, I have certain needs and desires which I may sometimes look to other people to fulfill. I may want things like safety, security, affirmation, approval, respect, and success.
The problem is, my neighbor isn’t going to give me any of these things. If, for example, I seek the approval of others by displaying my vast knowledge of sports, or by my penetrating insights into the world of politics, and he isn’t interested in any of those things, then I’m not going to get the respect and the approval and the affirmation I’m seeking.
But the good news of what God has done for us in Christ changes all of this. The fact that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of his people and declares them to be righteous because he gives them the righteousness of Christ as a gift, means that I no longer have to depend upon the approval of others for my sense of well-being. The fact that I have God’s unwavering love and affirmation and approval means that I no longer have to try to build these things by finding other people who are like me and who agree with me so they can affirm me. I already have the approval that I need!
The gospel liberates us from seeking our well-being in others. The Apostle Paul said it this way: “There is no longer “Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The good news of Christianity brings down the dividing walls between Jews and non-Jews, slave and free, male and female. In other words, Christianity makes it so we no longer simply gravitate towards people who are like us. Christianity creates families (known as churches) out of black and white, young and old, and rich and poor. Christianity creates diversity.