Talking Past Each Other

Are you a discussion dominator?
Are you a conversational cooperator?
Are you an exchange evader?

I find myself taking up each of these three postures at various points. As a minister/preacher by trade more than a few people have suggested that discussions with me can devolve into mini-sermon festivals where my perspective comes with three points, a poem, and an invitation to come forward in response. Other times I’m all to eager to “go along to get along.” Sometimes I just find myself avoiding difficult conversations all together. My sense is we all adopt each of these different types of conversational style with one another. Sometimes we want to persuade others of our perspective. Other times we want to find consensus or harmony. Still other times we equivocate, evade, or excuse ourselves from having to weigh in on the conversation.

The truth is many times we are talking past one another. We live in a culture where people look for “Gotcha” moments in interviews and social media postings.  One of the more fascinating things for me on social media is to observe how rational, intelligent, goodhearted people can become so focused on one point of view, and so dismissive of any other perspective. The “truth” as espoused on social media and cable news can seem less about the biblical value of setting people free and more about pummeling them into submission.

In the story of Job, three of Job’s friends have come for a roundtable discussion about Job’s plight. Much of the book of Job are these conversations where people seem to be talking past each other, rather than having heart to heart conversations. Job’s companions really struggled to understand how such calamity could befall someone if they hadn’t done something to deserve it. They leaned heavily into a common theological understanding that held if you honored God with faithfulness in your life, then everything would go well in your life. It’s the kind of understanding you find all over the book of Proverbs. Follow this wise advice from scripture, and then this will be the positive life result. Yet the story and experience of Job unravel much of that common understanding.

I can see how this roundtable was doomed from the start. Job’s friends know the common wisdom teaching of the times. They have experienced the success of following treasured principles in their work and familial lives. It’s very likely Job would have been of the same mindset as all of his companions… that is until his whole world fell apart. Job’s simpler understanding of how the universe and God worked no longer stood in light of his experiences. As far as Job could tell he had honored God, had been faithful, had lived a righteous life… and still his life came tumbling down.

I wonder if the comfort Job finds at the end of the story is in much more than that his wealth, health, and relationships are rebuilt. Job and his companions exhaust themselves contending for their point of view. Then God shows up and invites all of them into a bigger reality. God’s reality. To be sure, God declares that Job has spoken truth in a way Job’s companions did not. Nevertheless, it seems like Job and his companions are invited to find comfort in God who transcends their limited point of view. To borrow from C.S. Lewis’ writing at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia… God invites them “further up, and further in.”

Are there areas in your life where you and friends or family seem “stuck” at odds with one another? How might God want to enlarge your perspective and spirit?

How does God’s reality transcending yours challenge you? How does it comfort you?