There are a lot of voices coming at us these days. Our digital age allows us to speak our mind quickly, and often without thought beyond our initial impulse to tweet, write, or speak. As one who is often quick to speak and slow to listen, I have dealt with my fair share of face-palm moments, wishing I could just make my words disappear. I speak too soon, and as a result I miss the diversity of opinions that could actually help me have a more full, nuanced understanding and better Engaging with Other Voices.
It can be hard to engage with differing opinions. As one who holds to certain things tightly, I have been guilty of fear over a different idea or voice. My fear keeps me from listening. My judgment keeps me from understanding. My pride keeps me from hearing the voice of a fellow image bearer. Instead it is my quickness to speak that keeps me in error. The early bird doesn’t always get the right answer. This failure to listen (and quickness to speak) makes me think of Proverbs 18:17:
The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him.
Doesn’t this sound like our current culture? Anyone can seem right if they are the first one speaking. Often the first one speaking into something comes with a lot of conviction. They come with a lot of Bible. They come with a lot of authority. But then someone else comes along. This person also brings their Bible. This person is more nuanced. This person has firsthand knowledge of the situation. This person might even be an expert in her field. And the diversity of voices suddenly calls the first person’s words into question.
What usually happens in these moments? The one who speaks in haste digs her heels in. The one who speaks second lobs more arguments against her. This verse in Proverbs comes in the middle of a chapter that speaks a lot about patient listening and wise words. It comes in the middle of a book that does the same. Solomon urges us to listen before giving our opinion (verse 13). Death and life are in the power of the tongue—or as others have said “the power of the thumbs” (verse 21). Anyone can state his case first. It takes wisdom, patience, and understanding to listen even if the person speaking is saying things you disagree with at first.
Sometimes we can be so concerned about being right that we miss passages in the Bible that speak to our need to be kind, winsome, humble, and teachable. Christians should be the most faithful listeners of all because we aren’t afraid of what others might say or believe. We trust in the God who is sovereign over all, even experiences we might not understand or that we judge unfairly.
I’ve been really struck lately by how quickly majority culture Christians, myself included, are to jump to conclusions when a minority brother or sister speaks about something we don’t understand. Instead of listening, we speak first. And as a result we end up looking like the fool after a close examination from someone better acquainted with the situation. We would do well to spend some time in the book of Proverbs, letting Solomon’s call to wise living convict us in the ways we jump too hastily into speaking. “Listen and live,” Solomon says. Of course, he is saying: “listen to God’s law and live.” But God’s law also tells us how to live in relationship with one another—our fellow image bearers. If one member of the body of Christ is suffering, struggling, or articulating something we do not understand, God’s law tells us to treat them as we would want to be treated—with humility and grace (Luke 6:31).
Often when we talk about race we can jump to similar conclusions. We are quick to speak when we feel threatened by something we don’t understand. We think we know history, so we chime in on a conversation and unintentionally hurt our fellow brothers and sisters of color. Our quickness to speak reveals us to be fools when someone else comes and examines us.
Instead of always having to give our “hot take” or opinion on something, perhaps the best posture of a believer is to listen. Ask questions. Seek to understand. In so doing, we may be closer to Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves. In so doing, we may be closer to being right than we would have been if we had been the first one to speak.
Published: February 13, 2020
- Pray for a quickness to listen and slowness to speak in matters that you are not familiar (or maybe even think you are familiar).
- Pray for humility to hear a diversity of opinions and grace to receive them.
- Pray for kindness in your own heart when someone comes and “examines you” after you state your opinion.