In the teachings of Proverbs, God addresses such a dilemma this way. He says that if we see someone stumbling to the slaughterhouse (whether it be an emotional or relational slaughterhouse) and say nothing to stop them, claiming we just didn’t notice, well, God reads our hearts and has taken note. He closes this little passage out then by saying their blood will be on our heads as far as He’s concerned.
And it makes sense. Doing nothing to protect someone we see headed for danger actually ushers in the same outcome as leading them into danger. Sure it’s radical, but on heart level, we lead people to poor outcomes out of selfishness and avoid intervening on their behalf for the same. It’s the same hard-heartedness that produces the same outcome.
I remember a story about a man who left his wife a note and flew off with his secretary to Vegas. When his friends found out they flew off too. They found the hotel, they found his room and they knocked on his door and plead with him. They loved him and couldn’t let him do this without at least trying to talk it out first. He was their best friend. Would he please think all of this through before he went on and did something that would really hurt them all?
He said he’d talk, so they checked into a room down the hall and talked and talked and talked. Did he really know how much this would hurt? Could he tell them all about the frustrations and pain that was driving this escape. Were things really bad with his wife? Had he been afraid to be honest and get help? They just wanted to know. Their hearts were breaking.
Turns out the guy caught a plane home with his buddies, willing to face reality and deal with the problems that had driven him to this. Wow. When I heard this story I choked up. It made me think of the hundreds and thousands of people who may have stepped back from the brink had their friends taken their safety and future seriously.
Clearly it’s not enough to wish people we love the best. It is our place to act on their behalf. And the only reason we do not is selfishness or fear or both. Like my friend who got married about ten years back and asked me to sing at her wedding. I didn’t think the guy was for her. She was very spiritual and he not so. I feared that she’d not met her best friend, but a cute guy who liked her a lot. And did I say something to her? No. I was afraid. I didn’t want to offend her. I buried my concern and sang at her wedding.
Six years later a close friend called to tell me that dear friend was on the brink of divorce. She’d found her marriage empty and couldn’t seem to make it work. She felt alone in her home—they were so different—he going out with all his buddies and she’s attending church by herself. I cannot tell you how sad I felt. I had thought these thoughts before she got hitched, but didn’t have the guts to speak my truth to her.
Would she have listened? Probably not, or maybe, but that was not my problem anyway. Mine was to speak and care more about her happiness in the end than how she’d perceive me or possibly banish me from her life. It was fear and self-preservation that trumped my concern for her, plain and simple, it was selfishness. The good news is that I learned a huge lessen that day. A lesson I’m about to pass on to that colleague friend of mine. We are responsible to act.
Clar Worley Sproul writes from the Pacific Northwest.