My husband and I were excited to start our much-needed vacation. After we dragged ourselves through airport security we sat down to reassemble ourselves. Glancing up we observed an odd and troubling scene behind the information desk.
“Inappropriate!” I said.
“Weird” was the word my husband muttered as we watched a uniformed male employee repeatedly stroke a female employee’s face sitting in front of him.
“Is he giving her a facial massage?” My husband queried.
“No. I think he’s putting some sort of cream on her face.” I said.
We shamelessly stared. “There must be some rules against employees publically touching one another like that. Snap a picture with your cell phone,” I said.
We stood up to take a picture but as we did we immediately saw things from a different perspective. The woman sat on a wheelchair. Her arms and hands useless, curled tightly at her sides. Her fellow employee was tenderly rubbing moisturizer or makeup into her parched skin.
My heart sank. How quick I jumped to conclusions and judged his actions as wrong. How naturally and automatically I made up a story about what I saw when in fact, I did not see clearly at all.
At first glance this man’s behavior appeared unquestionably inappropriate. It was only when I saw things from a different vantage point did I see anew that his actions were actually the opposite. They were kind, generous, and gracious.
In the same way, Jesus repeatedly attempted to show the religious leaders of his day that they were not seeing things correctly. Not everything could be so easily explained in terms of what they thought was lawful, or right and wrong.
For example, Joshua spared Rahab, the prostitute because she protected the spies from being captured by lying about which way they went even though one of the Ten Commandments forbids us to bear false witness (see Joshua 6:25). Jesus did not follow the Jewish law when the woman was caught in adultery as the crowd expected. Instead of sentencing her to death by stoning, he said “Whoever is without sin cast the first stone” (Luke 14:3-6).
The Pharisees condemned Jesus as a lawbreaker when he healed on the Sabbath yet he challenged their deeply held beliefs by asking them, “Which one of you wouldn’t rescue a son or an ox on the Sabbath if they had fallen into a deep well?” (Luke 14:3-6). Jesus taught that doing good, helping others, and loving well was more important to God than legalistic adherence to biblical law.
What does that mean to you and to me? Every day we peer into a small section of someone’s life-story like I did with the two airport employees. We make judgments and create stories (often untrue) of what we think we see. Other times people may invite us to look into their lives to give them advice or biblical wisdom about what they’re doing, thinking or feeling. We then judge it as right or wrong, biblical or sinful, godly or worldly.
At times I’ve used the Bible as a rulebook to tell people what God says is permissible or unacceptable. But even Jesus had exceptions to his laws; and his laws of love, mercy, justice, and faithfulness always triumphed. Now as I listen to people’s stories I ask myself am I seeing this correctly? Is there only one right biblical answer for every situation?
I’ve learned to ask myself three crucial questions when facing this kind of dilemmas.
1. What is the whole counsel of God on this matter? I can’t just take one or two verses to prove my point.
2. What is the context? Not just the biblical context but also the person’s life story context. We can’t just take a single observation and make a judgment upon it. Just as I was very wrong in my initial assessment at the airport about what was truly happening, sometimes we can’t always discern what’s right and what’s wrong through a quick observation. Changing our vantage point might open our eyes to an entirely different perspective.
3. What are the biblical exceptions? For example, when the woman poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ head, the disciples judged it to be a waste of a valuable resource. Jesus thought otherwise and through this example, taught us that what seems right or even logical isn’t the only biblical way to make a good decision. Although what she did was extravagant Jesus said she’d always be remembered for her great love (Matthew 26:6-13).
In striving to be Christ-centered I am learning more and more that there is often more than one biblical answer. Our job isn’t to judge or decide for another person what’s biblical or not.
Perhaps the best thing we can do is help someone view his or her situation from different vantage points, (e.g. temporal, eternal, short term, long term), talk about what God might be up to in her particular situation and how to listen to the Holy Spirit so that she can learn to walk by faith and not by sight.
How about you? Do you tend to be “the biblical answer person” instead of helping your friend learn to listen for God’s voice for herself?