I’ve noticed a curious trend lately: in conversations with acquaintances or strangers I realize my conversation partner presumes I believe the same way they do on a given topic. Sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, whether the topic is politics, pandemic, or Pandora stations—it just keeps happening. This presumption often feels like some funny math on their part. You’re an educated, thoughtful sort of person who is also walking with God. Therefore, you must believe the way I do.
In my former life as a high school Spanish teacher, my students and I would discuss a common conversational quirk known as a tag question. These simplistic, formulaic interrogatives are commonly tacked onto a statement and invite agreement. In Spanish, it’s often ¿no? As in, right? Turns out a similar accompaniment frequents British English and German. Ah, a habit common to human experience.
Becoming alert to my own tag question tic has led me to realize how frequently and subtly I presume agreement, and unwittingly cast a pallor of condescension on anyone who may have disagreed with my college girl diatribes on unconditional election or my modern day assertions on the gospel according to Ted Lasso. As believers in Jesus longing for the redemption of every area of life, what alternative does Christ offer for this kind of presumption? The answer may be unexpected: curiosity. When we remember curiosity we invite the correct power orientation between ourselves and God, which puts us in the best possible headspace for interacting with others in a God-honoring way.
In Scripture God asks questions all the time, but it appears his motives are quite different from ours (Gen. 3:9, 11, 13, Job 38:4, Ezek. 37:3). My questions often ask for affirmation from another while God’s questions ask for our heart’s assertion that he is LORD. Mine can invite agreement that you do indeed find me wise and correct on all matters including this one, while God’s invite us to consider a plan that is not of our own making. Where mine value my own calculations, reason, and assertions, God’s press in toward our identity in the gospel, often begging the only appropriate follow-up question, Am I acting in light of what Christ did for me?
Considering the opinions or beliefs of others can be hard. And it takes a supernatural, Holy Spirit level of humility and grace to grant another the space to disagree. It can be an exhausting exercise to continually remind myself to elevate others over my own opinions, plans, or preferences. But I’ve found that expecting others to agree with me all the time can quickly shade the way I approach God, luring me to attempt to poach on his lordship. This habit of presuming I’m in the right and that others will agree is a slippery slope to making God in my own image.
When I find myself irritated (or irritated that I’m irritated) with a disagreement in the church, it often has little to do with the terms of the disagreement and more to do with treading the waters of believing that godly people don’t or won’t disagree. From Scripture, we know of the famous “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas of Acts 15:39, or the fuss over the unjust treatment of widows in Acts 6. While those instances are likely categorized as interpersonal affairs, we also see the argument of Galatians 2:11-21, where Peter and Paul are at odds over a salvific matter. When I’m irritated, it helps me to consider the manner of argument—is it directly related to the person of Jesus and our satisfaction in his completed work on the cross? Or is this more of preference or temperament, a case of the devil in the details? Family arguments in the church—and especially their pursuant reconciliation—can help to humble us. They put wheels on Matthew 7:1, explicitly helping us see how not to judge others.
Recognizing the sinfulness in my presumptive linguistic tic is simply an opportunity for communion with the Father. When I find myself frustrated that a person has, for example, mentally charted my voting history—or worse, that I’ve charted theirs—it’s an invitation to repent in the moment. Whether in my head or out loud if necessary, I’m invited to repent, then believe the truth of the gospel and ask to be changed further into Christlikeness.
A God we can’t wrap our arms around is a God we didn’t create. God’s questions—Christ’s questions—often invited curiosity and a new way of thinking (Matt. 9:28, Luke 12:25). Many were layered, like the “Do you love me?” of John 21:17, and more about the heart of the matter than the immediately available response. Can we allow God to be bigger than we imagine by aiming for kind inquisitiveness as we interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and even those outside the church?
When, by grace, I have approached a conversation with curiosity, leading with “How do you feel about this?” or “What has been your experience with that?” I’ve found the result to be unexpected in all the best ways. On a doctrinal matter, one friend told a story of painful past church hurt that naturally would shade our beliefs differently. In a parenting situation, another friend expounded on the why behind her specific response to her child that recast my judgment into sympathetic understanding. In each circumstance, whether or not my personal beliefs changed, when I stepped from judgment toward curiosity, my level of compassion and kindness toward the other person did increase and provided a safe place for relationship. And it invites me into ultimate relationship—to commune with him—as I see how nicely it fits with his command to allow him to be the judge instead of I, who does not know the hearts of men (1 Kings 8:39).
Next time I catch myself inviting agreement with my own opinions or preferences, I pray God will stop me in my tracks. Sure, the reminder is likely to sting a little, but if I really believe all the sad will be undone I can be reminded of worthy stakes—hope for deep relationship in this life and the ultimate, presumption-free communion of heaven. Curiosity is likely to be our walking-around disposition in heaven as we’ll be brimming with all that awe and wonder—but let’s work to develop it now, in this life, for the sake of others, looking to the hope of heaven. What’s to come for those who die in Christ will be only endless, joyful curiosity, love, and kindness for God and our neighbor. Because King Jesus of the upside down kingdom is coming back for us, and he’s going to make all things new and set everything right side up. I’m quite sure he’s coming back soon, don’t you think?
About the Author:
Holly Mackle is the curator of the mom humor collaboration Same Here, Sisterfriend, Mostly True Tales of Misadventures in Motherhood, author of the family Advent devotional Little Hearts, Prepare Him Room, and editor at engagingmotherhood.com. She is the wife of a handsome man, mama of two flower-sneaking bitties, and a fairly decent gardener and hopefully better humorist for joegardener.com. She spends most of her free time explaining to her two young girls why their hair will not do exactly what Queen Elsa’s does.