I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph. 3:16-20 NIV)
Apparently this is the theme for my week. Yesterday morning my teacher started class by reading us this passage. I had already used it as the introduction to my paper for her class, written a journal entry prompted by it, and referred to it in at least two conversations and one email about several different situations. Today it gives me hope about the possibilities of finding insights into a question I’ve been batting around for a couple of years. Is it possible, useful, Biblical to understand the thought processes of people who don’t think like I do? According to this verse, with God in the picture, it ought to be possible because "he is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine." So, assuming it’s possible, then what is to be gained? Is this a valid pursuit?
I think it will be some time before I can really answer those questions in practice, but in thinking about them now I am reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22). Without seeking to understand another’s thought processes, I don’t think we can be as effective as we ought to be in truly communicating with each other, and especially in effectively communicating the love of Christ.
I realize that understanding is not achieved quickly. It requires spending time, asking questions, observing. Too often I find myself speaking instead of listening, and missing opportunities to ask questions that would lead to understanding. Often I wish I could go back and “do over” those conversations, but I know I can’t, so I pray that when the next opportunity arises, I will be a better listener. I hope and pray and have to trust that through the work of the Holy Spirit, God is teaching me how to “make the most of every opportunity” (Col 4:5).
Meanwhile, I also pray for those people I have already met that I didn't understand, to whom I didn't quite know what to say and so I just talked past them, about whom I later wondered why they would say the things they did. I suppose it's unrealistic to expect to understand them all, but at least I'd like to have done a better job at trying, and pray that in the future I wouldn't shrink from a discussion with those who like to argue, or work so hard to fill the empty spaces in the conversation with anecdotes and quips.
Some might say there's danger in this pursuit because in understanding their perspectives, I may lose sight of my own. I suppose that's a valid concern, especially since I think it is part of the reason I have not pursued certain conversations in the past. I think I was afraid of losing my religion in the process of understanding theirs. Would that really happen? Is there really anything anyone could say that would stop me from believing what I already know? And if the conversation raised troubling questions, wouldn't I go back to God for those answers and in the process find greater strength and breadth and depth in my faith? That's how it's supposed to work, isn't it? I think it is. God promises to give wisdom, unfailing love, and to be there no matter what. So what am I afraid of?
"What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)