“It is a troublesome thing, Halford, this susceptibility to affronts where none are intended.” Anne Brontë, “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”
At a recent workshop associated with the journalistic part of my career, a statement made by a Millennial arrested my attention. During some rule setting that preceded a group discussion, this young woman set a tone when she asked participants to “assume positive intent.”
Lacking coffee at that point, I nearly dismissed it as a bit of Pollyannish pap that might be printed in glitter and displayed at a hair salon. (Did I mention I’m in the process of giving up caffeine?)
But, when I considered it, I realized it was really a fresh spin on a piece of wisdom that flits through every story that was ever written down about Jesus and, perhaps more surprisingly, God as revealed in the Old Testament.
It’s true. Many people are aware of Jesus’s willingness to dig deep for the good, but many also view God the Father as a morph of the mythical Zeus — angry and ready to hurl a lightning bolt at the slightest provocation. There is an occasional smiting in the Old Testament, but many of the stories reveal something else, Someone else entirely.
Ponder the kind of God who took the time to direct a desperately poor young widow (the Gentile Ruth) into the farm field of a Jewish man who would fall head over his well-heeled self in love with her. And, then loop them into the lineage of not only King David, but Jesus.
Consider the God who so stirred the heart of a prostitute (the Gentile Rahab) that she risked everything to hide two Jewish spies, then sneak them out of the city via her back window. Historical sources outside the biblical record suggest one of the young men later married her. They, too, were ancestors of Jesus – on His mama’s side.
God: He’s there, looking for a longing for heaven in the oddest of places. That’s why Jesus, oh Jesus, shouldn’t really be a surprise.
But, He was and still is. Look at the stories: Talking to serial adulterers right out in the street, engaging a young man so full of demons he lived in a cemetery and cut himself bloody, touching lepers, calling a crook who would betray him to death his “friend.”
“Assume positive intent” is easy to say and hard to do — and it’s the very core of God’s grace. God is just like that. He’s looking for any smoking ember of good intent, of hope that can be fanned into flame — always, always looking.
If we care about the future of our nation, the church world and, even, our families, we had better be, too.