This is the second in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other essays at the bottom of this page.
Discord is the great problem of this world, and like all problems, it demands a solution. Being a lover of words, it seems most appropriate that I should draw your attention to the roots of that word, “discord”. It is composed of two elements. The first is the prefix, “dis-” coming to us from Latin. It means “apart” or “asunder”. The second is “-cord”, which comes from “cors” – heart. Therefore, discord means drawing hearts apart and ripping them asunder.
The word “cord” tends to suggest something different to English speakers: a strong thread, cable, tie, rope, or other device used to hold things together. We use it to tie a Christmas tree to the top of our car, to keep bungee jumpers from falling to a painful death, and to make ridiculously large screens hover in midair above a football field. But there is another kind of cord that I would like us to consider.
Before we drew a single breath, each of us was attached to an umbilical cord. This precious connection with our mother was the only thing that kept us alive. Blood passed through it, bringing us precious oxygen and nutrients. In this way, we were united with our mothers, a life giving bond that sustained us night and day for nine months.
The importance of this particular cord was brought home to me when my sister-in-law was pregnant with my twin nieces. As identical twins, they shared a placenta, but each had their own umbilical cord. Through a twist of fate – or divine providence – “Baby A” was receiving far less nutrition through her cord than “Baby B”. This caused her to have a “growth deficiency”, and from the time the doctors discovered it, they believed that Baby A’s chances of survival were slim. They even cautioned that, should the mother miscarry Baby A, it could lead to her body expelling Baby B as well.
Never before had a cord seemed so important to me. Along with many relatives and friends, I prayed and prayed for those baby girls. While I cannot speak for the others, I know that I pleaded with God more than once in a very specific manner to strengthen Baby A’s cord and allow it to give her life. Everything was dependent on the nutrients passing through it. By His grace, the cord did its job, and they are now two happy, healthy girls.
Our society also sees the importance of the umbilical cord, but in a different manner. It has developed a different set of rules for those attached to a cord and those who are not. The term that is usually given is “viability”: the ability of a baby to survive outside its mother’s womb, independent of that transfer of blood. This is the final metric used by many people to determine whether it is permissible to terminate a pregnancy, or if medical personnel are required to try to preserve the life of the fetus.
If I were to reverse engineer that argument, it would seem that they are saying that a person is not fully a person if they are physically bound to their mother and dependent on her for their sustenance. They are not chiefly concerned with a functioning brain or heart, the markers we use to determine if someone is dead. Neither do they consider the degree of pain that might be caused to the fetus. No, what is most important to them seems to be the ability to live independently.
I think this is based less on hard science and more on something that is true of all of us: we do not like to be dependent. Certainly, we must all come to accept such a state at some point in our lives, but we would much rather be in control of and responsible for our own destiny. Even in those areas where we are dependent, we tend to view that which we receive as our “due”, or we prefer not to think about it at all.
Once a baby is safely delivered, the umbilical cord is cut, and the physical union between mother and child will never be quite the same. A mother may at first nurse her child, then continue to place food in their mouth, then provide the food that they place in their own mouth. At each stage, the bond seems to weaken, until finally the child is capable of providing their own food. This is the ideal process that humans go through.
Of course, there are plenty of cases where a child is dependent on their mother and/or father well into adulthood. While this may occur for any number of reasons, there is a certain degree of societal shame attached to it, much of it unspoken. Occasionally you might hear someone urge an adult still dependent on their parents to “cut the cord” and start providing for themselves.
But what of that first image of mother and child completely united? Science tells us that the placenta acts as a partial barrier between the blood of the mother and the blood of the child, but the development of the child is dependent on many things passing through. It is just as correct to say that the mother and child are “one flesh”, to borrow a biblical phrase. Scripture teaches that at a certain point, when a child is fully grown, he or she might choose to marry, creating another “one flesh” relationship.
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”
Thus, the imagery of that bond is used throughout scripture to describe something that is not only physical, but also emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. This kind of connection – indeed, this dependence – is hard wired into all of us, yet we struggle against it. Modern society, particularly in the West, is dominated by individualism. Even deeply communal nations like China are seeing their families increasingly spread out. We focus less on what duties we might have to one another, and more on the duty to follow our own goals and desires.
This is not to say that individualism is all bad. It is equally possible to go too far in the other direction, abusing individuals in the pursuit of some communal ideal. All too often, this is merely a cover for promoting a few individuals at the expense of the many. But there is a fundamental truth that we must all acknowledge: we are still dependent on one another, and there are still cords that bind us together.
One of my favorite novels is Jane Eyre, a book with a spiritual depth that can get lost in television and film adaptations. In one of the book’s most powerful scenes, the title character’s main love interest, Mr. Rochester, speaks of Jane’s imminent departure to a foreign country.
I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you…It is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.
Chapter XXIII, Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
Here we have the true meaning of discord: the cord of communion broken, the heart torn and bleeding, and the loss of our bond with another. In this world of disposable relationships, where many of us don’t know our neighbors, don’t seek out group activities, and treat any human bond as a burden, we are somewhat numb to the power of discord. But even if we do not want to acknowledge it, we are all tied together, and when discord occurs, we are the worse for it.
We are all bleeding inwardly, our life draining from us as our bonds are snapped, not by distance, but by our inability to live together in love. The truth is that we all need each other, and we all need to be reconciled. Unfortunately, discord continues to be the natural state of this world, for our hearts yearn to break every bond, including the ones that give us life.
It should not surprise us that we live in discord with one another, for we long ago cut the most important cord: the one that binds us to God. It is as if He brings us into being, and our first action is to destroy the cord of communion that ties us to Him. If we dislike our dependence on other humans, how much more must we hate our dependence on the Almighty Creator? We sense rightly that if God exists and has given us life, then we are not only dependent on Him: we are bound by duty. But each of us thinks we can be independent, and that we have no duty except what we owe to ourselves.
“In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28 KJV) The Apostle Paul borrowed this quote from Epimenides to describe the intimate nature of our bond with God. In His complete sovereignty, He is the one who allows us to breathe, to walk, and to do. We have nothing if not for Him, and like a child in utero, we desperately need the blood that gives life.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
Those who heard Jesus speak these words were utterly confused. It sounded as if the Lord was advocating cannibalism. It was so offensive that many of Christ’s own disciples walked away. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if what truly offended them was not the sickening imagery, but rather the implication that they, like the ancient Israelites, needed daily manna from heaven. They needed the blood of Christ in order to live. They needed to become “one flesh” with Him. In the end, they could accept neither Christ’s lordship nor their desperate need for the cleansing flow of that blood. Perhaps they sensed that it would place upon them a duty that was more than they were willing to perform.
Even if we reach the point where we desire to repair the bonds with those around us, we tend to go about it in the wrong way. We fail to realize that any cord that we put in place will ultimately break. In a world plagued by sin, it takes more than the best of intentions, the most fervent desire, and the cleverest human methods to create a bond that will last forever. Much like an under nourished fetus, we need our cords to be strengthened. We are unable to overcome discord by our own power – not ultimately, and not to an extent that we can achieve real peace.
Consider another biblical maxim: “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) This verse is often quoted to encourage people to work together, and that does capture part of the meaning, but the deeper truth was brought home to me by a college friend who had her bridal ring made in a three strand pattern. She did this to emphasize that it would not only be herself and her husband in their marriage, but God would play an equal part.
That is the type of cord we desperately need. It is the method by which we can restore our relationships. When the relationship between two people and God is so tight that they are effectively intertwined, united in purpose and action, then they have achieved something so strong that it can last when others would fail, rising above the kind of selfishness that plagues all humanity. Once God becomes part of the equation – His will, His commands, His love, His power – then there is real hope that discord can be prevented and even reversed.
The only way to combat this discord is to acknowledge the bonds we share and seek to strengthen them by the power of God. As our bond with God is strengthened, our ties with those around us can follow suit. We must acknowledge these cords and embrace them in order to prevent the heartache and slow death of discord. Let us embrace instead the concepts of concord and accord.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation.
Other articles in this series:
#4 – The Cross of Hate
#5 – The Age of Sacrifice
#6 – The First Step
#7 – Impossible Questions
#8 – True Love
#10 – Truth with a Capital ‘T’
#11 – Christ is All in All
#12 – Awaken!
#14 – Humble Rebellion