The Danger of Assumption

You don’t know much.

Sorry, but its true. As much as we value education and knowledge in our world, we really don’t know much of anything.  In fact, it seems at times that our continued search for knowledge only leaves us knowing that we have more to learn.

Now, throw this lack of true knowledge into a sinful heart and we have a recipe for disaster. There is an endless world of speculation available to us, and the sinful motive to always assume the worst in those around us. If jumping to conclusions were actually a work out, we would be iron-men.

Let me provide an example; you’re at work and run to the water cooler to get a drink. On your way Jimmy stops you and says “hey, those TPS reports were due on Friday, remember?” without looking up from the manila folder that was holding his attention. 

Somewhere deep inside of you is a small LED light that goes from green to red. Your internal temperature starts to rise and you can feel every muscle in your body clench. The alarm in your brain begins to sound; an explosion of anger is on the horizon.

On the outside though, you smile through gritting teeth and manage a response that is less toxic than what you’re ingesting. You get through your day fine but as you drive home and review your day, you can’t move beyond your interaction with Jimmy. Methodically, you find 15 arguments for why the TPS reports were not the “real issue” and how Jimmy is completely wrong. Man, Jimmy is the worst.

If we were to look objectively though, Jimmy spoke 8 words that were largely rooted in fact; TPS reports were due, you failed to submit them, end of story. And so, the question looms: “why am I so angry, then?”

The problem is that you assume that you know more than you actually do. Assumptions can get us into a great deal of trouble because we think that we know exactly why Jimmy did what he did. We apply all kinds of reasoning and logic to his head and heart that we have no business speculating upon. Again, in the end, you don’t know anything.

A good friend of mine has a term for this; “assuming motive”. When we assume another person’s motive we think we know what drove them to act; anger, jealousy, greed. We assume that we know someone’s heart. We think we can adequately put a finger on why they did what they did. We have moved beyond the realm of what someone did and moved into the realm of what they wanted.

Only God sees the Heart

God speaks to this, in a way, when he selects David to be King of Israel. You probably remember that David was the youngest of his brothers, and so, was least likely to be chosen as a candidate for kingship. In fact, when Samuel came to review Jesse’s sons, Jesse didn’t even think it necessary to bring David in from watching the sheep. But listen to what our God speaks to Samuel during his selection process;

“for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

While we can only see the outward appearance, God can see the heart with clarity. In fact, while we can’t even really understand our own heart (Ps. 19:12, Jer. 17:9) God sees it and understands it perfectly (Jer. 17:10). God alone can assess what we truly desire.

Consider these words from Isaiah chapter 11;

And He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth (Isa. 11:3b-4a)

If we look at just a small portion of what is stated, Isaiah records that man is fundamentally different from God in that we can only judge by what we know—by what our “eyes see” and what our “ears hear”. We don’t know anything thoroughly, but really just get by to scrape the surface of a true knowledge of any given moment, material, or motive.

But Jesus judges with “righteousness” (v. 4a), meaning that he does it with flawless perfection. In contrast with our sensory-related judgments, Jesus knows our world perfectly and weighs in as judge without fault. He sees, hears, and knows all things and doesn’t fail to bring about proper justice, mercy, and love in His time.

Fruit Inspectors

But before we head down a wrong path, there are instances where we are to assess others. Jesus gives some instruction to judge others in the sermon on the mount;

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “So then, you will know them by their fruits. (Mt. 7:15-19)

How do we know a false prophet? By their fruits (v. 16). It is by the actions of these individuals that their true nature will become apparent. Galatians 5 tells us of two sets of actions that indicate the nature of our faith, some which are wrought by the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) but others are wrought by a dedication to our “flesh” (v. 19-21)—the sin which still dwells in us (v. 17).

Do you see the difference between assuming someone’s motive and assessing their actions? We cross the fine line of humanity and deity when we jump into someone’s intention, assuming ourselves to be as knowledgeable as God in that instant. This arrogance will only lead to further conflict and trouble in your relationships.

On the other hand, to investigate the fruit of another’s actions can be a very productive excercise. Matthew 18 lays out a scenario by which God brings back his wandering sheep (Mt. 18:12-14) by using a loving servant who is willing to confront sin that they see in us (Mt. 18:15). It might also be helpful to help a hurting friend work through what their heart desires by asking good, prodding questions (when given permission).

This subtle tendency toward assumption lies around every corner in our relationships and desires to spoil them. Since the very first sin in the garden of Eden occurred it has produced relational difficulties between people. Our lives can quickly be filled with a long line of friends who have been “black listed” because of our inability speak lovingly and openly with one another. We might find ourselves ducking down aisles in the supermarket to avoid someone we have a history with or retreating to mundane conversations so as to avoid the elephant in the room. All of this avoidance might point to some sinful history that we own—places where we have assumed wrongdoing in another but never actually spoken to them about it.

Trusting Christ

So, if its true that we can’t know anything fully, and if its also true that only God can know anything (and does know everything) completely, our course of action should be easy to ascertain. We have to leave room for the wrath of God and let Him be the judge (Rom. 12:19-21). If you have been wronged, God will know and He will take care of it—either by chastening His children in their sin or by judging it in condemnation at the end of time.

But remember, if you are treated poorly you are in good company;

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH;  and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;  and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:21-25)

First, we should remember that Christ also faced obstinance though he did nothing wrong. None of us can make that claim. Surely, we have some history with the “Jimmys” of the world that contribute to our own tendency to read into their actions. That history might be a good spot to investigate and ask “have I been faultless like Jesus in my past interactions with this person?”. It might even be appropriate to have a conversation and ask forgiveness for those things.

And in the midst of this self investigation we should also turn and trust God to bring about His justice—just like Jesus entrusted Himself to His Father. We should remind ourselves that God knows better than we do, and should trust His true knowledge. Perhaps its time to put down our vengeance and let God handle it in His time.

Secondly, we should remember that at one time we were the sheep going astray and that someone had to bear the brunt of that iniquity. Someone had to take the pain and suffering, caused by my sinfulness, and deal with it. Jesus lovingly pursued us to the point of death, its only appropriate that we might also be willing to take on the pain of our relational conflicts and bear them in the name of love. Perhaps we might be willing to “take one on the chin” like Jesus as an expression of faith in the God who sees it all and knows our hearts better than we could imagine.

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