For many years I have been challenged by something Fyodor Dostoyevski wrote: “To love someone means to see him as God intended him [or to see her as God intended her].”
It’s a great quote, but I have difficulty with it because my vision is not at all like God’s. I do not see others the way God sees them.
I look at a person, see a hardened face, and I assume the person is angry at me or at the world, and I stay away. But what I interpret as a hardened face might be a face that is straining to hold back tears because the person has been deeply hurt.
I look at a person, see someone who shies away from me, and I conclude that this person is aloof or arrogant. But it could be that he or she is scared.
I look at a person, see the earbuds in the ears and a hoodie covering much of the face, and I assume the person is self-absorbed. But it could be the person is lonely.
I look at a person who is loud and annoying, and I assume he or she is brash and rude. But it might be that the person is actually desperate for someone who will care about him or her.
My vision is not good. I fail to see a person as God intended him or her to be. I fail to see what God sees in the person’s heart.
Max Lucado points out, “We condemn a man for stumbling this morning, but we didn’t see the blows he took yesterday. We judge a woman for the limp in her walk but cannot see the tack in her shoe. We mock the fear in their eyes but have no idea how many stones they have ducked or darts they have dodged. Are they too loud? Perhaps they fear being neglected again. Are they too timid? Perhaps they fear failing again. Too slow? Perhaps they fell the last time they hurried. You don’t know.” (In the Grip of Grace, p. 40)
According to Wanda Vassallo, “A gem dealer was strolling the aisles at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show when he noticed a blue-violet stone the size and shape of a potato. He looked it over, then, as calmly as possible, asked the vendor, ‘You want $15 for this?’ The seller, realizing the rock wasn’t as pretty as others in the bin, lowered the price to $10. The stone has since been certified as a 1,905-carat natural star sapphire, about 800 carats larger than the largest stone of its kind. It was appraised at $2.28 million.”
I look at people the way most people looked at that gem. I see only “the size and shape of a potato.” But God perceives the true and incredible value of each person.
So what do I need to do?
I need to approach each person realizing that, hidden beneath the surface, is a treasure in each person. Then I need to take the interest and the time to listen to the person’s heart and the person’s story, for it is in listening to the person’s heart and story that the treasure may be found.
Forgiveness is something I love to receive…but sometimes I have great difficulty giving it to others.
C.S. Lewis captured the essence of the problem well in his book, Mere Christianity: “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.”
Forgiveness is a nice idea…until it comes to actually forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply.
When Jesus hung on an executioner’s cross and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” it was not a theoretical issue for Him; it was deeply personal. One who had been part of His inner circle for the past three years betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver. One of his closest friends denied that he even knew Jesus. Most of His closest friends ran away when He was captured. Those whom He had healed and fed and cared for turned on Him and shouted for His execution. Soldiers whipped Him and mocked Him and stripped Him naked before nailing Him to the cross. When it came to His response to these people, it was not a theoretical matter but a deeply personal matter. Yet what He did toward those who had hurt Him most deeply was to ask God to forgive them.
Then Scripture has the audacity to call us to forgive as Jesus forgave—not theoretically but in reality!
Why would God call me (and you) to do something that is as incredibly difficult as forgiving those who have hurt us?
I can think of two reasons why.
#1: God created us in such a way that our lives only run well or work properly when our soul is not clogged up with grudges and resentment.
Michael McCullough, the former director of research for the National Institute for Healthcare Research, and the co-author of To Forgive is Human: How to Put Your Past in the Past, points out that people who forgive benefit from better immune functioning and lower blood pressure, have better mental health than people who do not forgive, feel better physically, have lower amounts of anger and fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and maintain more satisfying and long-lasting relationships. God calls us to forgive out of His love for us. Grudges and resentment are bad for us; forgiveness is good for our well-being.
#2: God desires for us to depend on Him and to be empowered by Him, and the reality is that the only way I can forgive those who have hurt me most deeply is through His help. Only when Christ’s forgiveness flows into my heart and spills from me to others can I forgive those who have hurt me most deeply. I cannot stir up forgiveness on my own; I can only do it through Him.
Wow! We are facing some incredibly divisive issues in our nation at this time! Which candidate will ruin our nation? Which candidate will save our nation from ruin? Some insist that it dishonors our veterans and those who died in service to our nation for an athlete to sit during the National Anthem. Some argue that something must be done to draw attention to matters of injustice in our nation. Some insist that the value of certain lives must be highlighted because of ways in which those lives have been devalued in our society. Others argue that other lives must be granted equal respect. It seems that the irritation we feel toward those of opposite opinions is growing, that it is becoming more and more difficult for us to listen to each other or to respect one another beyond our disagreements.
I have in my office a cube with one word on each of the six sides of the cube. Any way I place the cube, I can see no more than three words at a time. It is only by picking the cube up and turning it all around that I can find all six words and read the sentence they produce: “No one sees the whole picture.”
I keep this in my office to remind myself (and sometimes to remind others) that I am able to see part of the equation, while the person on the opposite side from me can see another part of the equation. The way to solve our problems is not by dividing up and grouping together with others who can only see the same side of the equation that I see, but by listening to each other, gaining from each other’s viewpoint, and figuring out how we can work together toward mutual solutions.
I have tended to dread conflict, to perceive conflict as a war in which each side is out to defeat the other. But there may be a better approach to conflict. In the Chinese language, the word for “conflict” is written by combining two terms: “danger” and “opportunity.” Yes, conflict includes danger. But that is not the only thing conflict includes. Conflict also includes opportunity. Conflict includes the opportunity for two people(s) to look at something from different vantage points so as to gain a more thorough understanding of it so as to come to better solutions to the problem.
Listening to one another in the midst of our disagreements is the essential starting point to conflict resolution.
William Stringfellow remarks, “Listening is a primitive act of love in which a person gives himself to another’s word, making himself accessible and vulnerable to that word.”
David Augsburger adds, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer stresses, “He who can no longer listen to his brother will soon no longer be listening to God, either.”
No wonder Jesus declares, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God.”
In the midst of these divisive times, I hope we will look upon our divisions as dangerous opportunities to learn how to listen to each other so as to see the fuller picture so as to come up with better solutions together.