How do we respond when someone shares something they are doing that we believe to be counter to God’s will? It’s not a simple question because it usually depends. It depends on our relationship and history with the person. It depends on what the behavior is and how we feel about it. It depends on our understanding of God’s will in the circumstance. It depends on the attitude of the person who comes to us. It depends on how we see God’s hope, compassion, grace, love, truth, justice, and mercy comingling.
When I have this conversation with other Christians, it nearly always goes in a couple different directions. First, should we focus on love or truth? Yes. Both. Always. We speak the truth in love. Easy peasy, right? Until we have to live it out. Second, should we focus on a specific verse we’ve learned addresses the issue at hand or entertain the discussion of what God truly says and does over the breadth of Scripture? Yes. Both. We constantly seek God’s truth but don’t limit him. Truth is in the context of his character. We cannot fully understand either his truth or his character. It’s too much for us, and aren’t you glad? Let’s be solid, faithful Christians, including humility to realize we grow and must posture ourselves in his presence in order to determine the wisdom of his guidance and purpose.
Here are a few of my experiences of people sharing their stories with me:
- I love God, and I love the church, but I knew that as soon as I shared this, my relationship with the church would never be the same.
- When I came to realize what I did was best for me, because I had been told God would say otherwise, I had to walk away. I don’t want a God who doesn’t love me enough to accept me.
- I’ve never really known God, but because of how God’s people generally respond to me, I have no desire to know if he even exists.
The question often arises, “As a Christian, what do you think about who I am or what I’ve told you?” And there is the crux, the pause where a decision looms. While some might jump right in and express an opinion or quote Scripture without much thought of the ramifications of the delivery, I think most of us, especially if we have any sort of a respectful and compassionate relationship with the other person, will pause at least for a moment to determine how best to respond. But will we respond well? Will we choose the way we’re most comfortable or the way we assume God would want us to respond, or will we actually seek his guidance? What is our posture in his presence?
People who have experienced the harshness of God’s people or are simply insecure but sensitive to God’s provision through his people are primed to expect the worst. They expect us to say, “you’re wrong, but God.” We might point out God’s goodness, but it often sounds conditional, as if they can only receive it if they first (or even someday) change. The change portion of the equation is up to God. He knows core issues and struggles. He knows how to untwist the knots in all of us, and it’s not in the order we think it should be sometimes, including in our own lives. If you’ve lived an authentic faith with God for long, you know he works on some things very slowly over time. Other things come more rapidly and forcefully. And others comes in waves. Just when we think we’ve grown through something and have learned, it’s time to learn more. And isn’t that just like God—to know there’s always more to prune and cultivate while enjoying the beauty along the way?
We can do that with others. We don’t have the full insight as to what to prune and cultivate every step of the way, but we can let God do that in us. We can admit we’re works in progress, and that means how we respond to someone might not be the best way. We can also answer their questions by first listening to their questions. “What do you think…?” doesn’t presume a full-blown dissertation on every fact and vignette we can come up with. We are hopefully connected to God intimately enough that we can’t separate ourselves from him as we respond. We shouldn’t. But sometimes people aren’t asking for us to assume and prove what God says about them. They want to know what we think. They might be trying to prove how harsh they think a Christian will be, or they might truly care about our opinions, not just about a behavior but about them as a person.
We can be honest about not having all the answers. We can be honest about being conflicted. We can be honest that we might sound a bit legalistic about something and give the reason for that but also introduce the fact that others might express another opinion while also speaking within their understanding of God’s truth and will. If we posture ourselves well with God, we will admit that we are doing our best to seek and reflect him, but we will not do a complete job. We aren’t God. And we always want to, at the very least (or perhaps the most), leave an open door for people to seek him for the full expression of truth and love in their lives. When we shut that door because of our behavior, we should be judging ourselves the harshest of all. (Yes, the person might personally shut that door, and that is not on us, but sometimes we push that door as close to the final click as possible. Just because the person moves it the last millimeter doesn’t mean we’re in the clear.)
We can draw close to God and respond in his will as well as possible while also pointing out that we are not the end all expert on all things God. God is.
He wants the final word, so don’t try to speak it.