Monday, April 9, 2012

Hearing One Side of a Story

By Frank Viola

I remember it well. A zealous but naïve follower of Jesus in my mid-20s. That was me.
One of my friends had been part of the church to which I belonged. He had recently moved to another city and joined another group.
He called me on the phone from the other state to unload. He told me how he had been mistreated by this other group. And he singled-out one particular person who was (according to him) the source of his pain.
As I listened to him vent, my blood began to boil. I was angry at this group . . . and I was angry at the particular person who mistreated my friend.
Some time went by, and I was talking to another friend who knew more about the situation than I did. One thing led to another, and I found myself on the phone with the very person from that other group whom (I had thought) mistreated my friend.
As I listened to this man carefully, my blood began to boil again. But this time, I was angry at my friend. And more, I was angry at myself for drawing a conclusion based on hearing only one side of a story.
Everything became clear. I lovingly confronted my friend and the truth came out. Even though he did his best to deny it, my friend was cornered. He had slanted the entire account to his side. He was posturing himself to get others to regard him as a victim.
To protect his own ego and reputation, he was trying to turn the people he knew against a group of blood-washed, blood-bought, precious followers of Jesus and against one of its members.
But the truth was, my friend had brought a great deal of pain to others in that group, particularly one individual who was very close to him. And he didn’t repent from it (meaning, he didn’t stop oppressing this person nor recognize that what he was doing was very wrong). Instead, he justified it.
He never told me that part of the story.
Was my friend hurt? Yes. But hurt people hurt people if they haven’t tasted the cross. And he created more hurt by the way he handled the situation through gossip and slander.
His rewriting of history made himself look a victim and this other group of believers (as well as one individual who was a part of it) look like a bunch of insensitive boneheads.
My friend had poisoned my view of my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ . . . people I had no real relationship with.
(Proverbs 18:8 and 26:22 warn that listening to gossip is like ingesting choice morsels. It gets into one’s bloodstream just like poison does. And once consumed, it’s difficult to get out.)
I was ashamed. Embarrassed, even.
As I felt the egg yoke running down my face, I made a decision. I would never ever nevah evah draw a conclusion after hearing only one side of a story . . . even if that side was told to me by someone I believed I could trust.
I learned from my mistake . . . or should I say, I learned from my sin. For I was guilty of the sin of listening to and embracing gossip and slander. A very serious sin, by the way, because it is so damaging.
I painfully learned that there are always at least two sides to a story. Sometimes there are three sides or more.
And in virtually every case I’ve since (the exceptions are rare), the person who goes around complaining about someone else is the one who is spinning the facts and leaving out key plot-points. Plot-points that often change the entire drama.
Proverbs 18:13 puts it perfectly: “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.”
Indeed, before I heard the matter from all sides, I concluded, judged, and answered. And the Scripture was fulfilled: I felt foolish and ashamed after I heard the whole story.
Since my mistake, I’ve watched this same scenario play out so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve watched Christians smear their fellow brethren (often in clever and subtle ways) after getting their feelings hurt.
(Years ago, I was stunned to learn what some Christians will do when they get their feelings hurt. I can singe your ears with horror stories. I have often said, “You will know how real your relationship to Jesus really is when someone hurts your feelings. You will either get in the flesh and destroy people; or you will learn Christ and His cross and deal with it in a way that honors Him and extends love and grace to others.)
Throughout the years, I’ve watched Christians engage in gossip and slander, not ever realizing the damage they were doing. Some, in fact, would even preface their tale-bearing with the words, “This isn’t gossip because I experienced it” or “the person who told me this experienced it themselves so it’s not gossip.”
Hu? [Cough].
That’s like saying, “I just slit someone’s throat in cold blood while they were sleeping. But it isn’t murder because . . .”
The flesh is quite skilled at self justification.
I wish every Christian who breathes oxygen would read Jon Zens’ superb article on gossip and evil speaking. It’s the best thing I’ve come across on the subject. A needed word to every follower of Jesus.
If I had read it when I got that phone call from my friend years ago, I am fairly confident that I would have reacted differently. The fact is, my friend (whom I loved him and still love) had no business coming to me with his issue.
He was operating in the flesh when he did, but it was subtly clothed in religious garb. And I was too biased to see it.
Once hearing what he started to say, I should have gone straight to the people he was talking about with an open heart and hear their side, believing the best. For love “thinks no evil” of others (1 Cor. 13:5, KJV).
In short, I would have wanted this precise reaction if someone were talking about me in the same way to another person in my absence. We all would.
May God give all of us grace and mercy to live out the spirit of Proverbs 18:13 (to hear a matter from all sides before concluding and answering) . . . which is the spirit of our Lord, the One who indwells every true child of God.

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