Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Accidental Life Verse

Guest Blogger: Timothy Bertolet of The Voyages...

I have never been a big “find your life verse” guy. But I think I can make a case for Proverbs 18:17 having become a life verse for me. Over the years, the events of life and ministry have inadvertently thrust Proverbs 18:17 into this position. In numerous situations I have found so many practical applications to the wisdom contained within it. It simply states: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (ESV)

At the least, this says as our modern axiom puts it “ there are two sides to every story.”

So for example, what parent among us has not had ‘Child A’ come and say “‘Child B’ hit me”? As a parent it is easy to rush to judgment “how could you hit ‘Child A’?” You are all ready to hand down the sentence when Child B responds, “‘Child A’ hit me first.” So the case was right until another comes along and examines it.

I have experienced this type scenario on many levels. It even happens in the church, thankfully without the hitting. One person will present a set of events arriving at a conclusion with all the details in seeming support. The judgment seems certain and easy. Then, upon talking to the other party involved, the case is not quite so easy, the judgment not quite so certain.

This proverb says more than just “there are two sides.” It says that searching judgment of another can overturn what seemed easily and discernibly right when you first heard the case. Consider the analogy from our own legal system: the adversarial system is an important part of the process of discerning justice. If juries heard only the prosecutor present his case determining verdicts would be easy.

As another example of this, I have been the chairman of a non-profit board and at times we are faced with tough decisions. At times we find ourselves in a situation that requires decisive action upon which someone makes a case for a specific response. The case seems right and clear. However, as chairman in particularly difficult instances I have stated things like, “I am here to guard the integrity of the process.” Discussions must be fair and full. At times that entails being sure that no one voice dominates the conversation. Consensus and decisions in the board need, at times, to have a bit of an adversarial process to them. Matters must be weighed and even debated. We need people who will examine the case that another proposes so that we are not deluded into thinking a certain course is right just because it was the first suggested. Sometimes our opinions are changed; other times they are not but we become more prepared for objections as we proceed.
Let me ask you this: how do you respond to someone examining your best case? Often times we misconstrue a necessary and helpful adversarial process for an adversarial or enemy relationship. “If he disagrees with me, he must be an enemy.” To this end pastors and leaders can stack their boards with the aptly named “yes man.”

In other instances, I have seen people unable to handle an alternative interpretation of Scripture because for them the first interpretation they arrived at must be right (no matter how much I might try to prove via careful textual examination that the alternative is indeed correct).

I am hardly using this to advocate hermeneutical uncertainty or deny the necessity of firm convictions. Quite the opposite, sometimes careful examination from another can be the process by which we arrive at right judgment or course of action. Sometimes my best and closest allies are those who will bring questions and examine carefully the position that to me seems self-evidently right. Sometimes my case is not as airtight and self-evident as I first thought. Other times in personal confrontation, I will be more cautious when I approach people because I recognize that while my case might seem right, a little searching on their part--a little more detail that they might bring to the story--and the problem might be more complex then I was first lead to believe.

Have I made my case for a life verse? Maybe another needs to come along and examine it. What ever your opinion consider this. Next time you encounter some scenario with opposing actions or judgments remember Proverbs 18:17 “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” --then proceed with cautious humility before you close on the necessary firm conviction. Another examining the case might just be part of the discernment process.

(Tim is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary and is now the pastor of Pocono Mountain Bible Fellowship Church. He is married and the father of four daughters.)

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