It’s been a week since my last post and there’s been plenty of discussion, questions and dialogue both on and offline. What I find interesting is that what I was trying to communicate was misunderstood by some, mischaracterized by others and agreed with by still others. So what gives? Well, communication can be a tricky thing sometimes.
I remember learning this lesson early, that it’s not just what is said (or typed or written) that matters or counts in understanding someone. We need context, sometimes we need to ask for clarification. But what it always comes down to is being able to answer whether or not we understand the author’s intent. Have we grasped what the author is trying to communicate?
When I was in seminary, I was taught that while there can often be many applications for any particular passage of Scripture, there is only one correct interpretation – and that is what the author meant to communicate. That’s why Bible studies that only ask, “what do you think?” kind of questions but don’t dig in and ask “what is he trying to say?” are dangerous. What we think isn’t the final authority – what the author was trying to communicate is.
It’s the same thing with any conversation. We’ve all experienced times where we heard what someone said, but because of their voice, face, circumstances or whatever we also understood exactly what they meant, and that’s what’s most important. For instance, I ask people all the time how they’re doing and most people say something like “I’m fine.” But I also pay attention and sometimes notice that what they said doesn’t match what they mean – they say “fine” but what they mean is “I’m not really sure you care how I’m doing so I’ll just say ‘I’m fine'”. Watching their face, paying attention to the context and asking for clarification yields the real meaning behind their words.
Blogs, emails, texts and other impersonal forms of communication are notorious for causing misunderstandings. Why? Because they lack other elements that help clarify. The more information we have, the easier it is to understand what someone is trying to communicate. The less we have, the more likely we are to misunderstand, mischaracterize and mishandle the information and words we do have.
So when you hear or read something you think you don’t like or don’t agree with, make sure you understand what that person was trying to say. You can decide for them, but you might have reached the wrong conclusion because remember, it’s not about “what do you think?” Before you can ever go there, you have to be clear on “what is he trying to say?” It’s what makes the job of being a pastor and communicating for a living, difficult. And it’s where people run into a lot of problems with what the Bible has to say about various things – when they don’t understand, they jump right to the question “what do I think?” without pausing long enough to make sure they can correctly answer the question “what is he trying to say?” Don’t make that same mistake. Take all information into consideration and clarify if necessary.