AS A JOURNALIST, I hold to the maxim that there are no stupid questions. However, there are occasions when people seem to get pretty close—they at least put the “duh” in dumb. Take Nathanael, for instance. When Philip comes to him excitedly to tell him about Jesus, Nathanael asks, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46).
Umm, how about the Messiah, Nathanael?
To be fair to him, he’s not alone in making sweeping generalizations. Many of us have blind-spot-infused, knee-jerk reactions to things that are based on ignorance—what we don’t know or what we think we know which is actually wrong.
This is dangerous because we can find ourselves on a slippery slope that goes from presumption to prejudice to some sort of “ism”; I’m not exactly sure where the changes occur on that continuum, but they do, over time.
What’s the answer? Fortunately, Philip provides it. Having had his enthusiasm (“We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote”-John 1:44) dampened by Nathanael’s skepticism, he doesn’t try to argue or convince.
Instead, Philip just says, “Come and see” (John 1:46).
I believe that’s the invitation to all of us when we want to dismiss something out of hand because “nothing good” could come from whatever it may be—a place, a people, a philosophy, or a political party. Just maybe there is something of, or from, God there.
This sort of attitude requires a bit of a shift in perspective, from the old idea that missions is about “taking God” to the heathen. The truth is, of course, that God is already there (“’Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord”-Jeremiah 23:24). Our job is to identify Him there and then perform the introduction.
Don Richardson illustrates how in his classic book, Peace Child. Having gone to live amongst a tribe in New Guinea and spent considerable time learning the language, he was excited to finally feel fluent enough to share the gospel story with his new friends. All was going well until he reached the part about Judas and everyone started cheering.
Turned out treachery was considered a fine art in that culture. Naturally, Richardson was dismayed. But rather than give up, he stayed—and went to “see.” He discovered that there was one way the different tribes could end their constant fighting: when the chief of one tribe gave his son to be raised by members of another.
Though not obvious at first sight, planted within that people was an echo, an image, a shadow of the gospel. Richardson was about to tell them about the ultimate and eternal peace child, Jesus.
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