Life is full of taking sides. Everybody wants to be a critic. This is really what reality TV is all about. Whose side are you on? It’s why we love these shows like The Bachelor and American Idol and even shows like Trading Spaces. Everybody gets to voice their own opinions and talk about people who look bad or people who we really think have it together. We have a culture that is built on taking sides.
Those areas may not be the ones that cause intense reactions. Most of the time, people just have differing opinions about them. But they are the training ground for how we respond to even bigger issues. What side are you on in the following: Are you for or against drinking? Are you for or against the president? Are you for or against abortion? Are you for the Cubs or are you for the White Sox? You probably didn’t even have to think too hard to come up with your answers.
Have you ever noticed that when someone comes around and has a contrary belief to ours, we tend to get all tensed up? All of a sudden, we feel our hearts start beating harder and our blood pressure starting to rise because we feel we need to defend and protect our beliefs. Our beliefs point to who we are, and if someone is against our beliefs, it feels like they are against us.
That is why this Bible verse intrigues me so much. It is Jude 22, and it says this: Be merciful to those who doubt.
What a simple little statement. But we really don’t see these six little words being applied very often. That may be because these six little words are really hard to apply. People tend to get really frustrated when they are trying to make a point and someone just blows them off and says they just don’t see it their way. It seems like it becomes really difficult when the person they are talking about is God. This is our faith we’re talking about. Like any of our other beliefs, when we get around people who doubt our beliefs in God, we tend to feel we need to defend and protect God. Mercy is not normally our first thought.
So why would God want us to use mercy with those who doubt? Doesn’t that sound risky? How do we win the argument and get people to come to our side if we don’t stand up and defend and protect our beliefs about God? There may be a few reasons why God tells us to show mercy to those who doubt.
First of all, the truth doesn’t need to be protected. If it is the truth, people will eventually be faced with it. Have you ever heard people say the truth will always come out? Eventually this happens, but if we go on the offensive and try to force people to believe, we put a stumbling block in their path. Think about this: When we are in the midst of a conversation, is God really up in heaven with His fingers crossed hoping we can defend Him or else He is in big trouble? No way! In reality, truth is not an idea, but is Jesus Christ Himself. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6a). We need to look for ways to introduce people to the truth, not just our ideas. We really need to test our motives as to what we are defending when we get in that mode. Many times we are defending our ideas and not trying to introduce people to the truth.
The second reason God may want us to show mercy to those who doubt has to do with mercy. If we respond to people in mercy, we get a much greater response than if we attack or get defensive. God knows how people react under different circumstances. He knows differing opinions tense up the atmosphere in the situation. So He gave us a plan to diffuse the tension. That plan is to use mercy. To respond with mercy is to respond with grace. True mercy can only come out of a heart of love. Again, when we have a differing opinion with someone, we need to check to see if how we are responding comes from the motivation of love. It’s amazing what can be talked about and discussed when love is the motive for sharing.
The third reason has to do with us personally. It is called fear. When someone has doubts about God and expresses them to us, we have to deal with those doubts in our own mind, and that makes us uncomfortable. We probably don’t want to admit to this, but many times we are faced with an internal battle with our own beliefs and are just taking it out on the person who brought it up. The real truth is that God uses other people who voice their doubts to get us to face ours. It’s a lot easier to focus on others than to focus on ourselves. In reference to how we treat others, Jesus said, “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38b). It’s probably a good idea to remember this when we are responding to other people’s doubts. We need to make sure we aren’t reacting to others out of our own fear.
One of the challenges we face every day is simply that when we encounter people who doubt the existence or relevance of God in their lives, we respond by treating them with mercy. We definitely need the power of God to help us, to tackle our defenses, to destroy our fears and to help us show mercy. So next time you are around someone who shows signs of doubt, mix in a little mercy.[Kevin Diederich is currently pastoring a new church in Naperville, Ill., called Life Point Church.]