I am reminded of a story attributed to Chuck Swindoll about an amazing dog. Its owner, an avid hunter, had taught the dog to retrieve ducks in an amazing way. The time came when the owner wanted to show the dog off. He went hunting with a friend. A flock of ducks flew over the blind and the avid hunter was able to shoot several down. “Go fetch”, said the dog’s owner. The dog jumped over the side of the boat, landed on top of the water, and began to walk on the water to retrieve the nearest duck. The dog took the dead duck in his mouth, brought it back to the boat, dropped it over the side and turned to retrieve another bird still in the water. The process was completed several times. Finally the amazing dog jumped back into the boat having performed as trained. The dog’s owner turned to the friend he was trying to impress and asked, “What do you think about that?” The friend replied. “Not much. That stupid dog can’t even swim!”
There are several lessons in life that could be learned from this sermon illustration, one of which is that people see what they want to see. It is a matter of perspective. Once a narrative is decided upon, it is difficult, if not impossible, to change that perspective.
In a recent Blog I wrote in defense of allowing the use of musical instruments in the local church. Someone responded by accusing me of attacking the Greek Orthodox Church, which I never even mentioned. I had to shake my head in amazement at the misunderstanding. When did a defense of musical instruments in worship become an attack on the practice of the Greek Orthodox Church? The whole purpose of the Blog was that there should be freedom of conscience in the matter of musical instruments and whether to use them, or not use them. But, it is a matter of perspective.
In1887, Charles Spurgeon became embroiled in a public discussion over liberal theology in England. As a conservative minister of the gospel Spurgeon was alarmed at how the Word of God was being downgraded, and he said as much in his paper, The Sword and the Trowel. Deliberately taking offense, some prominent Baptist leaders demanded a public apology from Mr. Spurgeon, who had not mentioned anyone by name. All Spurgeon wanted to do was to warn God’s people. His articles were not intended to be personal, but correctional. Nevertheless, people saw what they wanted to see, and some became angry without a cause. Baptist leaders moved to silence the Prince of Preachers. Susanna Spurgeon later wrote that the Downgrade Controversy killed her husband. What was meant for good became an occasion for misunderstanding, retaliation, and censorship.
The Baptist Union leaders did not have to become upset with Mr. Spurgeon. They simply chose to be offended. There is a truth in life which is that no one can make another person angry or upset unless that individual wants to be. When confronted with people about to kill him, Steven prayed, like Jesus had prayed, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). For a Christian, being offended, or not being offended, is the choice of the new nature (Col. 3:8).
In more recent days, Senator John McCain has seen the harm of posting personal opinions about political matters. He apparently understands the potential fallout of any public comment. On March 6, 2015, Colin Campbell, a contributor to Business Insider, reported on why the Senator does not post his thoughts on line. “I don’t email at all,” John McCain said. “I have other people, and I tell them to email because I am just always worried I might say something. I am not the most calm and reserved person you know? I am afraid I might email something that in retrospect I wish I hadn’t.”
John McCain may be wise in his policy. More than one person, including myself, has lived to regret putting something out in the public domain in an attempt to be correctional, not personal. More than one person, including myself, has been surprised at the misunderstanding generated. But, such moments are inevitable for people will have their own perspective. That is not wrong. In fact, it is good because it is a victory for freedom of conscience whereby, “every man can be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5).