As I’ve listened to people talk and as I’ve read people’s thoughts regarding all the violence that has taken place in the last couple of weeks, both the shootings of the two African American men and the shootings of the police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, I’ve noticed something largely missing from all the communication: a willingness to hear before making a judgment. It seems to me that this has been taking place at all levels of society, government, and sadly, the church. So I’d like to just offer a brief, loving reminder of some biblical principles that we are all aware of but that we tend to forget in the heat of the moment.
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
To make a judgment, to size up a situation, to decide who is right and who is wrong before hearing from all sides is foolish and shameful. Why? Only a fool makes a decision based upon a fraction of the available information. This is patently obvious when you think about it in everyday terms. What if the engineers at GE built aircraft engines without looking at 75% of their testing data? All kinds of things could go wrong, from inefficient use of fuel to squandered profitability to the potential loss of lives. Who on earth would hold those engineers harmless for such carelessness? They would be regarded as fools at best, murderers at worst.
Likewise, only a fool would try to build a house with only half of the dimensions? Only a fool would try to skydive having received only a third of the instruction.
But we use that same essential methodology all the time in our relationships at work, home, church, and on social media when forming and expressing thoughts and opinions. We make judgments, definitive statements, and weighty decisions possessing only part of the available information. And yet we know not only from Proverbs 18:13, but also from our own experience that it is best to withhold judgment until you have all the information. If required, each of us could come up with many instances when we’ve made hasty statements, judgments, or decisions only to receive information later that showed us to be completely wrong. If we continue this practice in spite of so much personal data showing that it is folly, what can be said of us but that we are shameful fools?
Regarding recent events, it seems that many are concerned primarily with being heard rather than hearing others. Implicitly, we are declaring to those at whom we are shouting, “there is only one perspective here – mine! There is only one side to this story!” This too violates a biblical principle found just a few short verses below Proverbs 18:13:
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)
Who has not had this experience, too? You hear one side of a story and the details paint such a clear picture that a definitive conclusion seems obvious…until you hear the other side. I have experienced this phenomenon too many times to count as I have counseled couples. The first to speak always seems right. Always. As I listen to the first spouse talk, I routinely begin to think, “My soul, he’s/she’s married to a monster.” But then spouse #2 speaks, and always, the picture shifts to a more balanced situation in which there is some fault or misunderstanding on both sides. It’s not that this happens a lot of the time, or most of the time, or even the vast majority of the time. Every time. It happens every single time. That’s because there is a biblical principle at work there. In any situation in which there is more than one person involved, there will be more than one side.
When we hear or read a news story, we have heard one side. When we hear an eyewitness, we have heard one side. When we hear a police officer, we have heard one side. When we hear the President, we have heard one side.
The person who arrives at a settled conclusion without hearing all sides is a fool. That’s the Bible talking. That person is a fool whether it is the President of the United States or the pastor of a small, Midwestern Baptist church. We, as people of the Bible, even if we do so alone, must follow biblical principles when interacting with those around us. This is part and parcel of existing as salt and light in the world. It takes great discipline and care in moments of high emotion to stop and remind ourselves, “I don’t have all the facts, yet. By God’s grace, I need to slow down here and withhold judgment.”
The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near. (Proverbs 10:14)
Perhaps as believers our first inclination should be to just listen for a season, rather than launching salvos before we have even a fraction of the information necessary to speak wisely. By doing this, we’ll honor God, and we’ll be much more likely to eventually having something worth saying.