Monday, July 10, 2006

Assuming motives leads to war

Thoughts after reading 1 Chronicles 19.

Motives are difficult things to read...reading the question "What are you doing?" gives us no indication of motive. However, if you begin to emphasize different words, you can begin to feel different motives. "What are you doing?" is the question of a parent, whose motive is to find out why her three-year-old son is eating soap (true story). "What are you doing?" is the question of a person who has just been asked what they were doing in an accusing manner. After giving what they believed was a good answer, they throw the same question back in their accuser's face. "What are you doing?" is the question of an inquisitive boss, whose motive is to try to find some reason not to fire a seemingly lazy employee that he/she otherwise likes.

Motives are funny things, and when you begin to assume someone's motive, it can get dangerous. Have you ever assumed that someone was questioning your character when they just had a question? Have you ever assumed someone to be selfish or proud when reality proved otherwise...that they were simply acting in ignorance? My seventh grade band teacher told us all one day that assuming makes something of "u" and "me". (If you don't know, it's okay.)

King Hanun assumed something in 1 Chronicles 19. He assumed that David had sent a delegation to spy on him and find a way to overthrow his country, when David was actually sending a delegation to express sympathy over the loss of Hanun's father, Nahash. Hanun was paranoid and assumed David's motive was antagonistic toward him, so he had the delegation captured, shaved, and stripped. This was not good...the Ammonites became "a stench in David's nostrils" (verse 6). What happened next? You guessed it...battle lines were drawn, and eventually the Ammonites ran away from the fight. The integrity of the king had been questioned by Hanun...assumptions were wrongly made about his motive. Nobody would dishonor God's anointed king, and so war broke out.

Where did it all start? Hanun was so paranoid about being attacked that even an act of kindness by David seemed threatening to him. He didn't even give the delegation time to explain why they were coming; he simply assumed the worst and jumped on the defensive. Does that sound familiar at all? Don't we too often assume that people are out to get us? Someone that we have had conflict with in the past may genuinely try to encourage us...what goes through our minds? "I wonder what her angle is." "I wonder what he really meant by that." "Was that sarcastic?" What would happen if we didn't assume these kinds of things? What would it be like to actually give someone the benefit of the doubt?

This is not to dismiss the importance of defending integrity when it is attacked. However, I think we too often jump to the conclusion that everything is an attack on our integrity. Well, I know I jump to that conclusion too often. Let's listen carefully to Paul's words in Romans 12, with some parenthetical comments by me:

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody (even the ones you assume are against you). If it is possible (and it is more possible than we usually think it is), as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:17-19, 21)

Assuming wrong motives in those around you can lead to war. It did in the Old Testament, it can in your family and friends, and it can in the New Testament church.