Written by Danielle Grisnich
Once, one of my colleagues told me in the friendliest way, “I think you’re lesbian. You just don’t realize it yet.”
I’m not lesbian, but I recognised that coming from her, this was likely a compliment. She was trying to communicate that she saw me as part of her crowd. Despite my surprise, I didn’t contradict her. I sensed that from her perspective, she was encouraging me, not labelling me.
Although my beliefs are very different, I saw no need to be offended by her words.
My own kindness is perhaps often clumsy as well. No doubt my attempts at encouragement or friendship often stumble across cultural fault lines I do not see.
Responding to the simple, well-meaning remark with a barrage of dogmatic proclamations and cherry-picked Bible verses didn’t seem an effective way to win her over. Besides, God knew her better than I did. I asked Him to give me wisdom in my conversations with her, and I trust He did.
Relationships with nonbelievers can expose ideological rifts that are not easily bridged. Should we draw attention to differences in belief or politely smooth over the jagged edges of our opinions?
Does God want us to draw clear lines between the “right” people and the “wrong” people? Verses such as 1 Peter 3:15 suggest that Christians be honest about their beliefs, but also loving. Is it possible to pursue both? Can mercy and truth really meet together?
Whatever your answers, surely you’ll agree it’s worthwhile to strategize about how we can treat others with gentleness, respect, and grace. I think it starts with seeing ourselves as less intelligent than we so often assume. It starts with seeing others as more knowledgeable. It starts with seeing God as more present, available, and kind.
Kindness cannot coexist with paranoia. Therefore, to keep the biblical injunction to treat nonbelievers with gentleness and respect, we must first deal with the suspicion that hardens us to their perspectives.
Prejudice and xenophobia keep us from hearing the wisdom and beauty in the lives of others from different backgrounds and cultures.
Just as the personality of God is interwoven in the natural realm, His character can still be discovered in everyone we meet, if we take the time to look.
Truth may be absolute, but our understanding of truth is not. Our knowledge of God, society, and each other is fragmented—we cannot be sure we understand. Recognising our ignorance does not prevent us from trusting that God, being beside us and in us, gives us not a spirit of fear, but one of love, power, and a sound mind with which to encounter the world (2 Timothy 1:7).
We need not fear the darkness we do not know, because we have God with us, and He does know. This confidence in the active presence of God allows us to live fearlessly in the world. And, because we are fearless, we are better able to love the world.
As Colossians 4:5-6 says. “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
The grace, gentleness, and respect we can fearlessly extend to those of other faiths and perspectives is not acquiescence to all beliefs. Truth is not relative, yet it is important for us who believe in absolute truth to also recognise our own limited capacity to know that reality. Our faith in absolute truth does not lie in our own comprehension of it, but in our connection to a divine Father who encompasses all reality.
In practice, this means that we take our sense of spiritual confidence from our relationship with God, assured that His Spirit will guide us and others toward truth. Personal acquaintance with God and Scripture study build a foundation of spiritual understanding and belief, while at the same time teaching us God’s yearning love for humanity. Habitually seeking God’s presence both solidifies our convictions and enlarges our capacity to accept and love others.
Knowledge of our ignorance keeps us from being arrogant toward nonbelievers. This allows us to extend respect and communicate graciously, trusting that God can reach those we cannot understand. We love people we do not know, confident that God, who knows them completely, loves them even more.