How Do I Look at People?
A lesson I am very slow to learn is how to see every individual in the world as they really are. Here are a company of people acting together in a certain cause, an industrial union,a political party,a crowd of demonstrators; or on a larger scale, adherents of a certain religion or members of an ethnic group: and my normal reaction is to view them in the mass, and, if I don’t like who they are or what they stand for,judge them negatively in the mass, and have an antagonistic feeling towards them.
But more than that, I find that my general attitude to individuals whom I pass in the street, sit with in a conveyance, see pictured in a paper or TV, is equally negative. My first general reactions are critical and to dislike them; and this specially so, if I know something about them which justifies my attitude, a condemned criminal, the perpetrator of a horrible deed, an enemy in a conflict; or much closer to home, my own neighbours or workmates or club members.The very way folk dress or look or speak has that same effect on me.
That is not difficult to understand because the hard facts of life, our hurts, our let-downs, our own home conflicts and broken relationships, our unjust treatment in business or society, and all the cruelties of life which stream in on us from the news media, build a suspicious attitude in us. Also subtly we project our own former dislike of ourselves and fear of others on to other people.
But now apply the same principle ofpositive faith towards every man. Let me see every man as he really is: a human spirit who has his being in God, but like the rest of us, has been caught up in seeking to find himself in the mistaken ways of self-fulfilment apart from God. So every man is a deluded self, but in his delusion is quite certain that he is on a right track. We all live by faith–the faith that we are right–even if that is against the laws of God and man. A burglar is right, a murderer is right, the enemy is right, the s ex-obsessed is right, up to the highest delusion, which Jesus spoke of, Whosoever killeth you will think he doeth God service’: and Solomon put it in one phrase: There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.’
Our Common Search
But now supposing we practise the habit of seeing others as we see ourselves. We thought we were right, and trying to find the right way the best we knew how. We have had our eyes opened, by the Spirit of truth working on us till we did at last respond, and now we are sure we are right–in the Father, Son and Spirit. But that certainly makes us understanding of all men everywhere, who are equally somewhere along the road of following some conviction that this is the way of self-fulfilment for them; and if they are on the wrong road, we are equally sure that the Spirit of love and truth, that Hound of Heaven,follows,follows after’ them too, until, as Francis Thompson (who had himself been a drug addict), so marvelously put it, that Voice echoes in the blinded heart: All things betray thee who betrayest Me: naught shelters thee who will not shelter Me: naught contentest thee who conten’st not Me: all things I took from thee I did but take, not for thy harms, but just that thou might’st seek it in my arms: all that thy child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home, rise, clasp My hand and come!’
I think this was Paul’sattitude, when he did not sidestep sin, speaking of those who being past feeling have given themselves over to work all uncleanness with greediness’; but he had first said of them with true depth of penetration into the misguided human spirit,that they were those who wa l ked in mental vanity, with darkened understanding, and ignorance of the life of God, through blindness of heart (Ephesians 4:17-19). He recognized that their sinful life was their present heart’s love and choice, but that its effects were a vast blindness and ignorance: and he had compassion on the blindness more than condemnation of the sin.
Paul had said the same, as we have seen, to the Athenian who was not satisfied with crude idolatry with its graven images, and had erected this altar to the Unknown God. Paul did not just see a member of a ‘heathen’ people, but a seeking human spirit whose being is in God, but is ignorant of Him whom he seeks: ‘whom ye ignorantly worship (and the "ye" implies that Paul counted on there being more than one!), Him declare I unto you,’ and ‘the times of this ignorance God winked at.’
And what more perfect and final in the right ways of seeing fellow-humans than the Saviour’s own words on the cross:Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’? He looked through brutal cruelty or careless indifference to precious humans in ignorance, and doing what they thought to be right, and that is what the Father’s forgiveness is for.
Seeing as God Sees
Now I apply that to my daily reactions to people. I must not keep my believing, as I have done for so long, on outward appearances. I must not lump together all the people involved in some combined action I disapprove of (and my disapproval of the action may be largely because I don’t understand) as just a crowd of prejudiced, self-seeking people: but I must see them as individuals, in each of whose hearts God is working as He is in mine. Equally I must not look with a jaundiced eye on individual out-ward behaviour or appearance of which I don’t approve. I must practice this same principle of transferred believing, transferred to who each person really is–a created and loved human in the being of God, really therefore a form of God, a human expression of God, gone wrong, –that he may be made right: and God in His Spirit of love is as busy working in him, disturbing his false beliefs, as He has been on me through the years.
Then I love my neighbour as myself. Just as I always find tolerance for myself, so I can for my neighbour. In fact, I must get this habit, of which my African friends always spoke, of realizing that when I point one finger at my neighbour, the other three fingers are pointing back at me! Follow them first! And I must be sensitized to my real sin, which is believing flesh rather than spirit, believing in what I outwardly dislike in my neighbour instead of believing and seeing him as one in God’s own being, in whose inner centre God is continually working in mercy. And I shall build my neighbour by faith and love, instead of destroying him by believing evil.
Paul remarkably stretches this depth of insight into every person who has not had the chance of contact with God’s outwardly codified laws. In Romans 2:5-16, he is confronting his Jewish brethren who had the law but did not keep it, and he says that God judges every individual not by his outer profession, but his inner sincerity of heart and the life lived in conformity to it. He boldly says God ‘will render to every man according to his deeds’; whether his purpose in life has been to live rightly and sought to do so, or to live wrongly and intended to do so.Then he analyses what goes on within a person who has never had the outward law as given to Israel, yet is living by the standards of the law, and doing it naturally.’ ‘How can that be?’ asks Paul. Because he accepts the control of an inner law, which really all men have if they will conform to it: and this man does accept that inner law in his heart, which means he chooses to do so and wants to do so.
The consequences, Paul says, are that his own conscience (the echo of the Spirit in him) confirms to him that he is right, and on the mind level he is continually checking himself up as to whether this action would be right or wrong: and then Paul ends by saying that on the day when he and all men stand before God the Judge of all, God’s standard of judgement will be, not on the externals, but on what went on in the heart of each,the secrets of men,’and that He will judge those by Jesus Christ.’
Peter saw a flash of the same when, on arriving at the house of the gentile Cornelius, he exclaimed,Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him.’And when Paul spoke of the need of the gospel being preached to all men, he added twice over (in Romans 10:18 and Colossians 1:23),But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world’; and called it the gospel which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.’
In Romans 1:18-20, Paul then reveals that there is within all men an inner knowledge that there is a living God whom they can worship, confirmed outwardly to them by the visible creation; and so all are without excuse if they have not worshiped Him– which means that pagans can worship Him!
Captives of Self-Centredness
But without Ch rist,our human forms of worship cannot deliver us from our fallen selves.There are a large number of religions in the wo rld today. Each, if we look into it, has a strand of truth, but the ro pe is Satan’s.The Moslems proclaim the uniqueness of God: the Hindus that God is the immanent presencein all things: the Buddhists that the human ra ce is ensnared by its self-desires and deliverance is freedom from self: the Animists that there is a spirit world: even the Humanists and Ma rxists that we humans should be abrotherhood.
But can these save a man from his sins and self-centred ness? No. Because we are the captives of the god of self-centredness, our very religions can only build up our own self-image: my religion, my code of ethics, my special God; and we turn them at their highest into means of improving and purifying the self, which as we have seen, is an impossibility, for we still remain self-centred selves: or, what is their main effect on the multitudes of their followers, to debase them, as Paul said in Romans 1, into all forms of demonism and idolatry, into horrible caricatures of the living God, and into licensed deification of human lust.Thus, the devil uses religion by the fanatical loyalty of its adherents into his final bastion of preserving his slaves in the kingdom of darkness. And he just as cleverly uses the religion of Christianity for the same purpose! (We can understand Bonhoeffer’s call for a Religionless Christianity’!) That is why we must take the gospel to every creature, for only God’s Son, come in human flesh can, by his death and resurrection, lift those humans who receive Him out of their self-centred bondages. Only He can bring them into true selfhood, which is not I living, but Christ living in me. He only is the Way,Truth and Life which brings us back to the Father.
The Quenchless Spirit
And yet, and yet, we see by what Paul and Peter said, the quenchless Spirit of God at work in every human being who has ever been on this earth, through that witnessing conscience, through the law written in the heart, through the glory of the visible creation, through man’s own condemning or approving thoughts; and there appear to be those, not for us to say how many, who did conform their, what we call pagan, hearts to God’s law as they understood Him, and they stand before a judge of mercy in Jesus Christ. Let us at least look on those we call ‘non-Christians,’ as ones who are inwardly being worked upon by the Father whose offspring we all are. I even love the searchings of that great mixed pagan mind in Robert Browning’s poem, Caliban upon Setebos.
And speaking of judgement, it must rightly be first a terror to all of us human law-breakers. ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,’ but as we progress from fear to finding our loving acceptance, do we not need to change our view of judgement? We are often told that we should look with fearfulness, even though we are Christ’s, at His coming Judgement Seat for the believers. But should we?
If He is only love, then if He has some judgement to pass on me when I am before Him, won’t I recognize the total rightness of it, that it was only love speaking what it always must–the truth? And what is more, if I am told, as I am, that I shall be like Him when I see Him as He is, and know as I am known when ‘face to face,’ and that I am predestined to be conformed to His image, can’t I therefore take it that any touch of judgement that day, any burnings of wood, hay and stubble, will only be to conform me to His likeness? So I eagerly anticipate the blessing of being judged! And anyhow Paul said that when that Day does come, it won’t be loads of disapproval to weigh us down, but ‘then shall every man have praise of God"! (1 Corinthians 4:5).
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 25 No 3
- Harmonious Relationships
- Editor’s Note
- Fellowship In Philadelphia, PA
- I Was a Fool
- "If we walk in the light…"
- C.T. Was Right & We Were Wrong
- Fellowship on the Mission Field
- Fellowship in the Body
- "Let us love one another…"
- My Personal Discovery of Total Truth
- How Do I Look at People?
- Long on Faith, Short on Love
- "Make my joy complete…"
- Applied to the Daily Life
- Fellowship of Believers
- Difficult People
- Walking with My Brother
- The Standard is Perfection
- Many Members, but One Body…
- Words to Live By