By Nelson Thomas, Mumbai

One of the major reasons behind conflicts among individuals, families and even communities is misunderstanding. Not only does it affect interpersonal relationships, misunderstanding also affects our spiritual life. Wrong interpretation of God’s word causes one to have a wrong idea about God and His plan. This results in unbelief, disobedience and rebellion which in turn lead to divine displeasure and judgment.

Christ’s words to the Sadducees who questioned Him on resurrection is poignant, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22: 29). One of the reasons behind the betrayal and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus was actually the failure to comprehend the scripture well (Luke 23: 34; Acts 3: 17; 1Cor. 2:8).

In this brief note let us explore misunderstanding which disturbs peace and harmony between one another. We cannot just assume that everyone will understand us right. Godly men and women have always been misjudged and maligned.

Consider the pain of Job when his own friends misunderstood him. Joseph was misunderstood for no reason and the subsequent cost was heavy. Eli’s comment to prayerful Hanna was humiliating. Apostle Paul’s actions were misinterpreted by his own converts in Corinth.

What are the reasons why others even our own dear ones misunderstand us easily? In spite of our sincere efforts we are misunderstood and our motive is questioned. Remember, it is not the problem of one side only. For example, Mr. A misunderstands Mr. B. It is easy to blame Mr. A for misjudging Mr. B. But the truth could be that Mr. B also had something in him that made Mr. A to come to a wrong conclusion. So, if we are serious to understand the cause, consequences, and the cure for such interpersonal issues, we need to have an open mind and an unbiased attitude.
Let us consider only 3 major factors that cause misunderstanding among each other.

1. Incompatibility

Cultural, linguistic and educational differences may hinder people to understand one another. Even among the same culture and language we see differences in each localities and people group. Also, differences in age, profession, experience etc., may hinder people to appreciate the thoughts and convictions of others.

2. Assumption

Each one of us has a unique thinking pattern and value system that is based on our background. If we look at people and hear them with a preconceived notion that is unique to our personality, our conclusion may be wrong. Because, before we carefully listen and observe, we will never understand what another person feels or thinks.

3. Self-centredness

When one is occupied with himself, he will only see his own point of view. He will keep on narrating his thoughts and feelings, but would be least interested to pay attention to someone’s side. Such people tend to feel what they say is absolutely right and view all others with disregard and doubt.
There could be few more factors that hinder mutual understanding and respect. A personal effort to discover more of such elements would definitely revolutionize our personal relationships.

We should not forget that the moment we make one wrong conclusion against our dear ones, it does not end there. One after another we may begin to ‘see’ things the other may have never even imagined. If not dealt with in time, it may snowball into serious issues and turmoil.

When we are misunderstood and even maligned what should be our response? How to remove the misjudgement of our fellow brethren to maintain a cordial, harmonious relationship?

We have many examples in the scripture. The response of Apostle Paul when he was misunderstood by the Corinthian believers over his cancelled visits, gives us many lessons (2Cor. 1: 12ff).

We also have a classic passage in the Old Testament where the people of Israel almost went to war against the two and a half tribes in the east of Jordan (Joshua 22). The concern of Israelites in Canaan may seem to be valid, for they heard that the tribes in the east of Jordan have built another altar which is against the command of Moses (Joshua 22: 11 cf. Lev. 17: 8 – 10; Deut. 12: 13, 14). They expected the wrath of God against such a transgression and the whole of Israel will have to bear the consequences. They considered the actions of the eastern tribes as treachery, rebellion and iniquity (Josh. 22: 16, 17). Their immediate response was to wage war against the rebels and destroy their land (Josh. 22:12, 33).

However, it seems someone suggested to send a fact-finding team before declaring a war. Under the leadership of Phinehas, ten (cf.22:13, 14) representatives went and shared their concern with the children of Ruben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh (22: 15ff).

They in fact used very strong words against the eastern tribes. Yet they patiently heard them and responded in a very humble and cordial manner. They acknowledged the seriousness of violating the Lord’s order but explained their original motive in building an altar. Their concern was unity between the people of Israel who lived in the east as well as west of Jordan. The altar they made was only a replica, as a witness for their children (22:21ff).

The delegation was satisfied with their answer and agreed that there is no treachery or rebellion on their part. Their report pleased all in Israel, and they praised the Lord for averting a battle and subsequent destruction (22:30ff).

Don’t we have number of lessons on crisis management? Let me classify few without much explanation.

  1. Zeal for truth and holiness is commendable, but it should be balanced with wisdom.

  2. Never act on what we hear about someone. Meet them, share your apprehension and listen to their views as well.

  3. If misunderstood and censured, be patient to hear and understand the critics.

  4. Humbly and sincerely acknowledge our fault, even if minor, that gave a reason for suspicion.

  5. It’s not enough that our motive is right; the method and outcome also must be right. As far as possible, avoid an occasion that creates doubt in others (1Thess. 5:22; 2Cor. 8:21).

  6. Always be ready to clear up any misunderstanding that arises, to maintain unity and divine blessings among God’s people. It’s impossible to keep anything under the carpet for long. (Psa. 133).

  7. A clear conscience before God is definitely our strength, yet do not just trust your own feelings, for our heart could deceive us (Josh. 22:22; 2Cor. 1:12; Jere. 17:9)

Let me conclude quoting Graham Scroggie on this passage.
“Among Christians perhaps there is nothing more grievous and damaging than misunderstanding. They so easily arise, they so swiftly spread, and the further they go, the worse they get…….It will be vain for us to sing hymns and go in to raptures over addresses, if we have made no effort to end estrangements with our fellow believers in the family, in business and in the church. Are there people at home or abroad who are heavy of spirit, or broken of heart because of your unjust treatment of them because of your false judgements on their justifiable actions? They are not singing as you are…”

Finally brethren, there is no use of blaming someone else. For the sake of harmony among the saints and the favour and glory of God let us bear with one another in love and humility (1Peter 4:8).




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