Treating People “As If”

IT’S FAIRLY EASY TO TREAT PEOPLE the way they deserve to be treated. In fact, most of the time, when people mess up—when they really blow it—it’s just a given that they should get what they have coming.

I certainly can’t endorse the personal failings and shenanigans of people in public life—politicians, Hollywood stars, sports heroes—whose sins and crimes routinely come to light. I can’t approve of the actions of church leaders—even lay Christians—who rail against the very sins in which they are sometimes discovered to be involved.

But I’m truly far more troubled by the predictable reaction of so many who rush to bring down judgment and condemnation when someone steps outside the lines. After all, say the stone-throwers, people have to learn that actions have consequences, right? They need to be “taught a lesson.” They need to be “made an example.” They need to pay for what they’ve done. They should have “known better.”

I’m troubled by the gleeful and smug satisfaction so often evidenced when someone falls or fails—even when such people bring it on themselves. It’s as if those who, for the moment at least, haven’t yet themselves been “caught” or “accused”—or even just “suspected”—live above all such human weaknesses.

But God says we’ve all sinned and come short. So it ill behooves any of us to nurture the illusion that we’re one whit better than anyone else. Looking at the sins others commit, we’d like to think that our sins are far less objectionable than are theirs. But we’re all on death row. What room do we have to condemn those in the cells on either side of us?

I can’t begin to tell you what an ongoing relief it is to know that God doesn’t treat people as they deserve—but rather, He treats them “as if.”

The little book Steps to Christ says, “If you give yourself to [Jesus], and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned” (page 62emphasis added here and elsewhere in this post).

And though I couldn’t possibly recommend everything he ever wrote, the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said: “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of becoming.”

Imagine how applying that principle affects children! If we treat them as if they are unimportant, valueless, to be seen only but not heard, as always wrong, as “bad”—then that’s the hopeless, discouraging image of themselves they will develop. They will surely meet our low expectations for them.

On the other hand, if we treat them as priceless, as important, as filled with limitless potential—if we teach them that failing is simply a normal and valued part of learning—then they will see themselves as the magnificent creations of God whom they truly are.

I’m so everlastingly grateful that God does not treat me as I deserve. If He did, I’d be utterly without hope. Instead, He treats me “as if” I had never sinned! Incredibly, He treats me “as if” my sins and failures never happened. He isn’t in the business of condemning me and raining down judgments. He’s in the business of forgiving and restoring and redeeming me.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” John 3:17.

And if God isn’t in the business of judging and condemning me, how dare I judge or condemn anyone else? Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:3.

The Golden Rule is really my simply treating other people “as if” they were me—as I’d want them to treat me—with mercy and forgiveness and even “the benefit of the doubt” and not with judging and condemning and a long memory of their offenses. The Golden Rule means my helping to cover from view the sins of others—not exposing and humiliating them.

Thank God that He ultimately applies justice only to those who ultimately reject mercy. As for me, I’m planning to take hold of God’s mercy so tightly every day that it’s “as if” it’s been surgically attached!


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Loree Waite on September 15, 2007 at 2:18 am

    I really appreciate how you tie in the idea of inspiring growth in kids by not judging/condemning them, but teaching them that failing is normal and it’s a part of learning and becoming better at whatever you’re trying to learn. That’s something I’m trying to instill in my perfectionist daughter right now! (Like Mommy, like daughter…..)


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