The Space Between, Part Two: Treating People with Respect, not as Objects

Walking with God doesn’t mean that we now have it all figured out, just like driving a car doesn’t mean we know what is going on under the hood. And it certainly doesn’t mean we know where we’re going, or even how to get there. What it means is that we’ve made a start.

I’ve been a Christian for close to 30 years now and I have a good foundation, but I learn so much when I’m a part of a group of Christians! Every time I open up God’s Word, He’s there teaching me something, leading me into all truth, just as He promised. And so often when I talk with my fellow believers I get a new perspective or new insight into who God is, and I’m reminded what it means to be a follower of Christ. Believing in Jesus is not a one time thing. It’s a process of continual growth.

And, to be honest, in times when I’ve had a leadership role this has been a hard lesson for me to learn because some Christians actually have issues… okay, all of us have issues. But some people have shared their struggles with me. And there have been times when I wished they’d just grow up or start making better choices. Sometimes I wished they could just understand how much God loves them and how He wants to use them, but they’ve been paralyzed by the pain of their past.

There is so much confusion, struggle and woundedness represented in the Body of Christ, and I’ve wondered what I could say, what I could bring to the table that God could use to be encouraging, to bring clarity, and help people take just one more step toward truth. But the most important time I’ve spent in ministry over the years has not been teaching from up front or leading a discussion, but afterwards, talking, listening, getting to know people and maybe getting to speak a timely word into their lives.

Too often we treat people more as objects than persons. I know that I’m guilty of this way too often! Objects are reproducible, quantifiable, controllable and dispensable. Persons are unique, uncanny, creative, and irreplaceable. Every person you talk to is worth your time, but don’t waste your time trying to put them in a box. True listening begins with an attitude that respects people as persons rather than treating them as objects. Martin Buber had some profound thoughts on this subject in his book I and Thou, written in 1923.

When we observe people, measure them, or examine them, we are engaging in I-It relationships. Rather than truly making ourselves completely available to people, understanding them, sharing totally with them, really talking with them, we keep a distance by either observing them or keeping part of ourselves outside the moment of relationship. We do so either to protect our vulnerabilities or to get them to respond in some preconceived way, to get something from them. That’s “I-It,” treating people as objects.

An “I-Thou” moment is when we place ourselves completely into a relationship, to truly understand and “be there” with another person, without masks, pretenses, sometimes even without words. Each person is coming to the relationship without preconditions. The bond this creates edifies each person, and each one responds to that edification by trying to edify the other person back. And a moment of true fellowship, dialogue and sharing happens.

The reality is that people move in and out of I-It moments to I-Thou moments. In fact, attempts to try to purposely achieve an I-Thou moment will fail because the process of trying to create an I-Thou relationship objectifies it and makes it I-It. Even describing the moment objectifies it and makes it an I-It. So Buber encourages us just to be available to the possibility of I-Thou moments. Let them happen… naturally. They can’t be conjured up or described. When you have it, you know it.

The wonderful thing about being a Christian is that we can share this kind of fellowship not only with each other but also with the Spirit of God and, by the Spirit, experience the true blessedness of brotherly love and spiritual unity in which our gifts and personalities are maximized in edifying one another and in glorifying the Lord.

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