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Learning What It’s Like to be the Other Person

Two TV channels owned by the same company showed vastly different events happening literally blocks from one another one evening recently.
On NBC, viewers could watch the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.

Over on MSNBC, and every other cable news channel, viewers could witness protests that erupted a few blocks down the street after a grand jury decided not to indict the officer involved in Eric Garner’s death.

For many on social media, the disparity between the two videos was astounding.

At about the same time, around 30 people gathered for our weekly ritual of Bible study in a small classroom at Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas.

We had our Bibles open to Job 9 and discovered that Christmas celebrations and protests over injustice may have more in common than we realize.

Job, a righteous man who came under tremendous testing, complains to his friends that God is too far removed from life on the ground to understand what it is like to be a suffering human being.

He laments, “God is not a man like me – someone I could answer – so that we could come together in court. Oh, that there was a mediator between us; he would lay his hand on both of us” (Job 9:32-33).

He then asks God, “Do you have physical eyes; do you see like a human? Are your days like those of a human, your years like years of a human, that you search for my wrongdoing and seek my sin?” (Job 10:4-5)

It’s a bold complaint to say the least; one most of us would consider sacrilege if it wasn’t in the Bible.

That God includes this protest in the pages of the Bible surprises us. What should surprise us even more is that God listened to Job and answered his plea.

Job cried out, “God, you don’t know what it is like to be me.”

At Christmas, God answered, not with defensiveness, but with grace. “You are right, Job, I don’t, but I am sending one who will find out. I’m sending one who will indeed be able to lay a hand on both of us, so that the gulf between us might be spanned.”

When I watch the news, the reaction to the news, and then the reaction to the reactions of the news, I get the feeling that almost all of us are standing around shouting out Job’s protest to one another. “You don’t know what it is like to be me.”

African-Americans are saying to their white neighbors, “You don’t know what it’s like to walk down the street as a black person, especially a black man, in America.”

Likewise, police officers are saying to those they are called to protect, “You don’t know what it’s like to go to work every day and risk your life to protect and serve.”

Both, I suppose, are correct. Most of us live out of our own perspective with little attempt to understand another’s point of view. At least, I know that’s true for me far too often.

When we are accused of not being able to understand another’s perspective, our tendency is to resort to defensiveness. Instinctively, we seek to protect our own point of view.

What would happen this Christmas season, however, if we followed the pattern of Jesus?

What would happen if we left the safety of our group, our people, our place to walk alongside our neighbor, and ask, “Tell me, what is it like to be you?”

We might just discover that the mediator between heaven and humanity can work through us to mediate between neighbors here on earth.

Taylor Sandlin is the pastor of Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Between Sundays, and is used with permission. He also blogs about preaching at The Short Preacher, and you can follow him on Twitter @TaylorSandlin.