Remember Middle School (or Junior High, depending on your school)? Depending on your age, this may bring up memories of bell-bottomed jeans, giant hair, or vaping in the bathrooms. At this age, students are beginning to transform from kids (who run and play at recess) to teenagers (which include both good and bad extremes).
At this age, it is really important to be right. If things haven’t changed too much since I was that age, conversations at the lunch table or on the bus aren’t about intellectual debates, where logical points are considered and investigated. Instead, they are often about proving the other person to be wrong. Statements like “I heard” or “my dad says” or “I watched a YouTube video” take the place of reasoned discussion, and sometimes claims are made matter-of-factly with no specific foundation except one’s opinion (e.g., “Of course Superman could beat Batman.”).
Kids this age will pick up on subtle inconsistencies in logic (even when these aren’t the point of the conversation), as well as rare – or impossible – exceptions (like, “What if a meteor hits you when you’re trying to help the person?”). They will point these out, even when they miss substantially more obvious realities, like the fact that they need to clean up their room!
But, maybe I’m not just talking about pre-teen children, here: We live in an environment where it seems that not only does each of us have to be right, but other people have to be wrong. Sometimes, this takes the place of simple denials, or sharing facts (as well as pseudo-facts and outright falsehoods). However, another common technique in this case is marginalization.
By insisting that someone who we disagree with is “clearly out of the loop”, or dismissing their ideas as contrary to “conventional wisdom”, “popular culture”, or “what everyone believes”, we push them away. Sometimes, we succeed in getting them to be rejected by others, as well.
This practice isn’t new. In fact, it goes back even longer than when you and I were preparing for high school:
The Pharisees then replied to them, “You have not been led astray too, have you? Not one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he?
John 7:47-48 NASB2020
In this passage, from the larger account in John 7:32-52, the Pharisees are speaking to temple guards who had been sent to arrest Jesus. The temple guards returned without Jesus, having been impressed by what He was teaching. Rather than talking with the guards about what made Jesus’ teaching so compelling, the Pharisees (although perhaps not all of them; see John 7:50-51) were dismissive. They publicly implied that the temple guards were ignorant, because their observations didn’t match the “official position” (whether formal or informal) of the Pharisees.
There may also be an insinuation here that the temple guards were unrighteous (because they came to a different conclusion than the religious leaders) or unfaithful (because they hadn’t returned with Jesus, having been sent to arrest Him).
Now, there is indeed a time and place to trust in another authority (even a human one). Messages like “Stop!”, “Don’t touch that – it’s hot!”, and “Please fasten your safety belts and stow your tray tables” are meant to be followed without first needing an explanation. In these situations, there may be time for context later, but pausing to debate a point like this may result in you walking into a light post or burning your hand.
However, many (most?) things in life are worthy of a healthy discussion, with facts, evidence, and logic. Jesus, Peter, Stephen, Paul, and others in the Bible took time to explain their point of view, often in great depth. They didn’t merely identify others as “stupid” or “ignorant”, even when they knew that some of their audience’s beliefs were incorrect. They took the time to explain and to educate.
Let’s take a closer look at some implications for us, tomorrow.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.