At 4 years old she hid under the covers when she heard angry words coming from her parents’ bedroom. At 5 she noticed empty beer bottles piled up in the den right before her father hit her across the face with an ashtray. By 6 she was strong enough to move her dresser against the bedroom door to keep her father from coming in during the night. That was also the same year she learned to sneak out of the house at night in search of safety from him. By 14 she had been physically abused so many times by her drunken father, she had lost count; by 16 she’d had enough.
She sought shelter at a friend’s house, and that friend took her to a safe refuge; she took her to church. There she found protection from her pain and wide open doors to a new life of freedom. Eventually, she met a man at her church; a man with a great heart who said he loved her. A few months into their new marriage, however, she discovered he was a closet alcoholic. When she returned home from shopping one afternoon, she found him drunk in front of a football game in the den. He was angry because she hadn’t made dinner for him. When he began to hit her, she fled.
Again, the little six year-old girl now grown, ran for her life.
Desperate for support and comfort for the catastrophe that was her life, she returned to the people who had first drawn her close to God. She returned to her refuge. This time, however, she found no safe haven. Instead, she was greeted with angry stares, belligerent doctrinal exhortations, and hostile condemnation. A sinner condemned for leaving her marriage, she was no longer welcome. She was a pariah.
Alone in the center of the rabid accusations, she hung her head in shame. Her very life hung in the balance of the religious zealots around her. They brought charges. They appointed a judge, and then they positioned themselves to kill her when her sentence was pronounced.
She waited. She listened.
“Did no one condemn you?”
Latitude. Space. Grace. Understanding.
A question; not an accusation. An opening; not a sermon, pronouncement, criticism, or condemnation.
Jesus simply asked a question, “Did no one condemn you?”
“No one, Lord.”
Jesus’ discerning question to the adulterous woman in John, chapter 8, breathed latitude into an extremely tense situation. She knew she was guilty of adultery, but Jesus also knew there was more to her story. Jesus knew she wanted a way out of the life she was living, so he offered her one. A well-placed question gives the “guilty” a way through and provides a point of entry into an entirely new way of living.
Listen to Abimelech, king of Gerar, question Abraham after Abraham deceived him and gave his wife to Abimelech saying she was simply his sister. Abimelech says to Abraham, “What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?” Genesis 20:10
“What have you encountered?”
Abimelech is blameless in this situation and certainly within his right to condemn Abraham’s behavior here, but he doesn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve condemned Abraham over the years for giving his wife away! It is one of those Bible stories that irks me no end, but before this week, I never noticed Abimelech’s response. It truly has convicted me. I realized that I am quick to jump to conclusions about other people’s behavior, and really slow about extending latitude to them.
Abraham’s deceit needs to be dealt with, and Abimelech confronts it; he never ignores it. Abimelech truthfully recounts what Abraham has done to him, but then he does the unexpected, the gracious. Instead of pronouncing judgment on Abraham, Abimelech provides a door for dialogue.
“What have you encountered?” he asked.
I don’t know your story, and you don’t know mine. When we encounter one another, all we know is what we present in the moment. We meet each other in snapshots. You may be 20, 40, or 80 years old, but unless you tell me, I won’t know your backstory. I don’t know why you do what you do, and you don’t know why I react the way I do either.
Yes, we sometimes make decisions we’d like to have back. I’ve made plenty in my lifetime that were just plain foolish. How I wish I hadn’t! Sometimes we entertain the tempting, and sometimes we even walk away from our faith altogether. Who will be there when we dash our lives on the rocks of disappointment? What will they say? Will they offer a 3-point sermon on our failure, or will they be there to open a door of dialogue?
“What have you encountered?”
Such a simple question Abimelech asked the man who had deceived him and jeopardized his entire family. Because Abimelech wisely offered Abraham a door of dialogue, everything was protected and restored. The two men became allies and supporters of each other in the years to come, and God’s plan for Abraham’s descendants was preserved.
What have you encountered in your life’s journey?
Do you need a door of dialogue?
© Copyright, 2014 by Donna Tallman.