Each heart knows its own bitterness,
and no one else can fully share its joy. (Proverbs 14:10)
One of my areas of study for my first degree was in cultural anthropology, where you quickly learn that worldviews across cultures can be vastly different and challenging to understand until you learn a sort of detached, non-judgmental stance with which to look at others’ ways of experiencing reality.
Even then, it can be difficult to realize that others may still see sincere value in ancient stories like one of the Pueblo creation myths that tells how Spider Grandmother wove the world into existence in stories that spindled out of her like a giant, interconnecting web.
If seeing the world through the lense of another culture’s experiences is challenging, learning to see reality through the perspective of someone who shares your same culture and background can be downright difficult. How do you explain the sibling whose recollections from childhood make you think you must have grown up in two different households? How do you manage to have a civilized, non-heated discussion with someone who sits on the opposite side of your particular political fence?
Part of the wonder of Christ on earth was His ability to see, not flesh and blood, but through our material selves to the very core of the person with whom He was interacting. Seeing through God’s eyes, Christ knows the heart. That means He sees and understands how each of us perceive the world around us. He knows why some of us are afraid of spiders or don’t like romantic comedies. More importantly, He knows why we make the choices we do in this life, even when those choices go against Him.
But, since it is God’s place to judge and our place to be gentle instructors, how do we approach other’s through God’s glasses and not our own human tendencies to jump to conclusions, see things from only our own experiences, and be quick to want revenge or “justice?”
Like all skills worth learning, this too takes practice. We can start by asking questions, first of ourselves. Why am I so angry? What exactly do I think is wrong with this situation? Is it really my place to step into this situation at all? What might be another reason for what I have concluded besides the reasons I have already assumed? Have I taken time to talk to the person in a non-judgmental way–asking questions that are not threatening but are designed to help me understand where the other person is coming from, what the other person is thinking?
CeCe Winans has a song about this topic called, “Alabaster Box,” that sheds some light on the grave mistakes we make when we jump to conclusions about others and pass judgment on them. The song is about the episode in Luke 7 where the woman who had lived a sinful life found out Jesus was in town and approached Him with an alabaster box full of expensive perfume that she used to bathe Him.
The townspeople chastised the woman for wasting such a valuable resource. They felt the expensive perfume could have been sold and the monies used to help the poor. But Jesus, who sees through to the heart, didn’t feel the same way:
Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. “You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. “You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:44-50)
CeCe’s chorus puts this another way:
Until the day, when Jesus came to me and healed my soul with the wonder of His touch. You don’t know the cost, of the oil in my Alabaster box.
The first time I heard this song, it had a profound effect on me. Despite the fact that I had had training in seeing other cultural worldviews without being judgmental, I was a long way from being able to look at people from my own culture with the same magnanimity. This song reminded me how much more work I needed to do in order to be able to look at people around me with love instead of trying to analyze what is right and wrong about the things that they do.
But this idea of perception goes deeper than just not judging other people. If we are really serious about it, we will take pains to try to see things as if we were the other person. This means we have to let go of more than just a little bit of ourselves and our need to be right. Could the perception of the other actually have merits we haven’t taken the time to consider before?
Don’t get me wrong. Trying to see through God’s glasses means we are still bound by the laws of right and wrong by which God is God. But because we are not God, it is not our place to write somebody off. It is our place to be concerned with our own right and wrong, which, if we are honest, is a full-time position.
Perhaps Will Rogers, one of my favorite cowboys, concludes it best:
Never miss a good chance to shut up.
The next time I feel myself propelled toward jumping to conclusions and saying something I will later regret, I will do my best to remember this sound advice.