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You consider yourself to be a committed Christian. You’re the good guy. You’re on the right side. So when that jerk who has been hassling you suddenly gets hit with some brutal trial which causes him to get off your back, you find yourself wanting to do a victory dance. After all, isn’t God exalting you by smacking your enemy down? Clearly when the bad news is being poured out on the heads of the people who oppose you while your path is being covered in blessings, then that means God is for you and against them, doesn’t it? Not necessarily. In real life, things are a lot more complicated than this, and in this post we’re going to discuss what some of those complications are.
When your enemies fall on hard time, you should never get started with the victory dances and proud gloating. It’s simply not appropriate, nor is it wise, because the same God who nailed your enemies can easily come after you next, and He probably will if He sees you’ve got an attitude problem. You see, you’re not better than the people who annoy you in life, nor do you deserve any of the mercy that you’ve already received from God. Once you have a grip on how spectacular you’re not, you’re going to realize that it’s never right to exalt yourself—it’s only right to exalt God. And since you can’t say, “God spanked my enemy for me because He’s on my side,” without sounding like you’re claiming to be more worthy of defending than that other person, it’s best to skip the public boasting altogether. If God intervenes for you in life, then by all means thank Him—but do it privately, not out loud to others. When you brag to others, you’re just sounding like a pompous ego. When you talk to God privately, you give Him the opportunity to correct your interpretation of His actions. After all, maybe what He did had nothing to do with defending you or helping you get your personal agenda done. If that’s the case, it’s better for you to find out privately instead of having God humiliate you in front of an audience.
Now if you want to decrease the number of times that you misinterpret God’s actions, the first thing you need to understand is that simply looking at circumstances is never enough to form an accurate assessment of what’s happening. The fact that God is doing something unpleasant to someone does not guarantee that He is disciplining them. Humans often view discipline as a form of punishment which is motivated by negative feelings on the part of the punisher. Humans are far too quick to assume that all negative events are a form of God punishing someone. In real life, it’s much more complicated than this. God causes very positive things to happen to people who He is both pleased and angry with. He also inflicts horrible trials on people who greatly please Him, people who He is disgusted with, and every kind of person in between those two extremes. Simply observing what God is doing to someone will not tell you why He is doing it. To determine the why, you’d need to understand what God’s current view of that person is.
MISJUDGING GOD’S VIEW OF OTHER PEOPLE
So how can you know how God feels about someone else? You can’t. But what you can know is that God’s feelings towards someone else have nothing to do with your feelings towards that person. You might currently hate someone who God is quite pleased with. You might dearly want someone to burn in Hell who God has already decided to take to Heaven. The reality is that you and God are often out of sync when it comes to how the two of you view other people. This is because you can’t see into the souls of others, nor can you see into the mind of God.
The way God handles humans varies greatly from person to person. We don’t all get the same number of chances to submit to Him. We aren’t all taught truth in the same order. We are designed to relate to God in different ways. God talks to Joe through the Bible a lot, but He never uses the Bible with Emily. God talks to Henry quite a bit through music, while He often uses fictional books to teach Kim new insights. God didn’t introduce Himself to Rex until Rex was 80 years old, but God revealed who He was to Nathan when Nathan was just five years old. God has educated Hillary quite a bit about His wrath, but He never talks about wrath to Joanna. God has called Jose to preach for Him. He wants Diana to be an accountant. He wants Terry to be a janitor. He wants Holly to be a daycare teacher. God has loaded William up with exceptional sports talents, but He’s paralyzed Renee from the neck down. God talks quite firmly to Ed while He uses much gentler tones with Adam. We’re not clones of each other. God has intentionally created humans to vary greatly in their personalities, desires, and communication styles. If you’re the kind that God always speaks gently to, then when you hear Ed sharing some crispy word from God that he received, it’s easy for you to jump to the wrong assumption that God is annoyed with Ed. Your assumption is based on the fact that if God ever used that tone with you, then you’d know He was mad. But you’re not Ed, and you don’t understand how God and Ed relate to each other. Ed is a very outspoken personality who loves God’s blunt, straightforward style. What sounds harsh to you sounds comforting to Ed.
MISJUDGING THE SOUL ATTITUDES OF OTHERS
Now while God’s style of relating to humans varies greatly, He judges us all by the same basic factor of soul attitude. Of course the issue of soul attitude hinges on spiritual illumination, because you can’t disobey God until He first educates you about what He wants. Spiritual illumination is the term we use to refer to the process of God educating souls with truth. There’s no way to predict the order or pace at which God will educate another soul, and if God hasn’t taught someone something, then He doesn’t condemn them for not knowing it. For example, Stephanie knows that abortion is wrong, and she’s very proud of the fact that she didn’t abort her baby, even when she was raped at an early age. When Stephanie finds out that Deborah had an abortion last year, Stephanie feels quite superior to Deborah. When Deborah doesn’t express any regret over getting the abortion, Stephanie takes that as evidence that Deborah is a defiant spiritual rebel. But is she? No, because God has never educated Deborah about His view of abortion, therefore Deborah was not disobeying God by getting one. Later on, when God does tell Deborah about His view of abortion, He’s going to break it to her a lot nicer than smug Stephanie would. God is currently very pleased with Deborah because she really wants to please Him. God is currently displeased with Stephanie, because she’s not listening to Him when He’s telling her to stop looking down her nose at others and acting like their sins are worse than her own. Stephanie has done plenty of things in her life that she knew were wrong at the time she did them. The fact that Stephanie obeyed God’s convictions about aborting her baby hardly makes all of her other rebellious acts go away. Rather than spend her time telling God how He ought to judge others, Stephanie needs to start working on her own maturity issues.
Humans constantly misjudge each other, because they focus on actions more than motivations. If all you know is that Ted ran over his adulteress wife last night, then you’re likely to assume Ted was acting out of malicious intentions. And yet such an assumption tells us more about your own motivations than it does about Ted’s. Just because you would leap to murderous revenge if you found out your spouse cheated on you doesn’t mean that’s what Ted did. The truth is that Ted’s wife stepped out of some shadows right in front of him and he didn’t see her until it was too late. The truth is that Ted had already forgiven his wife for cheating on him and the couple had decided to move on and start fresh. But the human instinct in these scenarios is to leap to the worst conclusions about people and withhold mercy. This is what we do with others all the time: we assume the worst, and we push for the harshest consequences that we think we can have. But then when we’re the ones caught in some compromising situation, we want buckets of mercy and we want everyone else to consider our motivations more important than our actions. See how it works? Humans are hypocrites—we can’t help it. We’re insecure and defensive and easily threatened by the actions of others. So we constantly leap to wrong conclusions about each other, then we decide God must share our conclusions, and this leads us to misinterpret what God is doing in someone else’s life.
Becky feels called to lead the children’s ministry at her church, but Edna–the woman in charge–won’t step down and give Becky a chance. Edna is rude, bossy, and she doesn’t even like kids. Everyone thinks she’s doing a terrible job, but no one has the guts to make her step down because they’re all afraid of her domineering personality. After two years of frustration, Becky finds out that Edna has just been diagnosed with cancer so she’s quitting the children’s ministry to conserve her energy for chemo. Becky is secretly glad, and she sees this as a sign that God is punishing Edna for trying to block Becky from obeying the Lord’s calling. But is this really an accurate interpretation? No, it’s not. Just because Becky was impatient to get going doesn’t mean her sense of timing was aligned with God’s. God’s plans never get blocked by people. The truth is that He didn’t want Becky to take over the day He told her that He wanted her to lead the ministry—instead, He wanted her to spend two years preparing with Him. God’s idea of preparing us often comes down to Him maturing us. But instead of focusing on her own maturity, Becky squandered her time by wallowing in self-pity and trying to pray Edna out of her way. Meanwhile, God has been telling Edna to stay on in the ministry even though she never liked it, because He was using it to teach her many useful lessons. If smug Becky could really see herself and Edna through God’s eyes, she’d be quite surprised and dismayed to find that Edna was doing much better than she was. Edna’s sourpuss personality isn’t what God is judging her by—He’s judging her by her soul’s response to Him, and Edna has actually been listening to God much better than anyone realizes. Edna’s cancer isn’t a punishment—it’s a new teaching tool. It’s a challenge that God is going to use to draw Edna even closer to Himself, and He’s actually rewarding her by releasing her from the trial of the children’s ministry. He’s not punishing her for Becky’s sake—that’s just what Becky wants to think because she’s too full of herself.
By the time we label certain circumstances as “punishments” and others as “rewards,” we leave no room for God to have many different motivations for using the same kind of trial in various lives. When we decide that God must view other people the way we do, we end up making a lot of wrong assumptions about how He’s viewing others. By the time we misjudge someone’s soul attitudes, level of spiritual understanding, and current standing with God, we are in no position to accurately assess why God is treating them the way that He is. And since we can’t see the whole picture, we’re in no position to start celebrating when those we dislike come on hard times.
In your life, you need to focus on what God is doing with you, and leave other people out of it. Who He is or isn’t pleased with in this world really has nothing to do with you. If you’re going to stay aligned with Him yourself, then you need to be focused on listening to His convictions, embracing the new insights that He gives you, and doing what He’s telling you to do. As for other people, they need to work out their own relationships with Him and for the most part, God just isn’t going to talk to you about what He’s doing with others because He considers it to be none of your business.
Dealing with Sinners
Aligning with a God of Extremes: How should we respond to spiritual rebellion?
What To Do When People Won’t Forgive You
It’s Personal: Understanding the Divine Perspective of Trials
Psalm 109: Learning from David’s Hatefest