To know the uncharacteristic we must know the character

As a Cleveland Browns fan, I was so disappointed to see their recent victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers marred by Browns defensive end Myles Garrett’s helmet-to-head infraction. The first time in five years we get a win over our long-time rival and we can’t hardly enjoy it because Garrett’s season-ending, violent behavior made what should have been a sweet victory a bitter one instead.

If that clip of Garrett yanking off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet and crowning him with it was all you’d ever seen or heard about the Browns player, you’d think him quite the nasty fellow indeed. But those who know him know better, and they say his brutal attack on Rudolph was out of character. His friends, family, and teammates didn’t lose faith in him because of one ugly display of hostility.

I think we can all agree we ought not judge a person’s character unless we know them pretty well, nor let seemingly aberrant behavior redefine someone we do know well. This simple principle has huge implications for our relationships…marriages in particular. Your spouse does something inconsiderate, your feelings get hurt, and right away you think, why in the world did I marry this man? He’s just mean and can’t possibly love me if he treats me like that.

Am I right? Or am I the only one who responds like this?

So I’m exaggerating, but I did have an epiphany of sorts recently when I realized I was unfairly judging my husband by allowing minor irritations or offenses to warp my beliefs and feelings about him. What might have been a careless remark borne out of his own irritation with things going on at work, too easily becomes in that moment what defines him, if I let it. But when I stop and remind myself what I know to be true about him, I am able to dismiss that “ugly display of hostility” as uncharacteristic. When I make the effort to look at all the evidence, my faith in my husband’s true character and in his love for me remains firm.

This same principle crucially applies to our faith, or lack of it, in God. If we don’t know him well, every painful trial that we or others have to endure can easily be seen as enough to peg him as cruel, uncaring, or even nonexistent. But when seen in the light of all the evidence we have that he is a good, loving Father, the hardships that seem uncharacteristic of a good God need not shake our faith in him.

This is the kind of faith that Jesus commended. When the Canaanite woman came begging him to free her daughter of a demon, he initially rebuffed her saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Kind of uncharacteristic of a loving God to seem to imply that you’re no better than a dog. But she knew better. She knew that God is gracious and generous and merciful and she would not be deterred by Jesus’s apparent dismissal of her. She responded as someone who saw the bigger picture, who weighed all the evidence. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

I believe Jesus’s seemingly harsh response was intended to draw out this expression of unshakeable, knowledge-based faith so that he could demonstrate how much God values and blesses it. “Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

Doesn’t it bless us in our human relationships when those we love know us so well not to be swayed from their faith and trust in us when we unintentionally hurt them? How it must also bless God, who in turn blesses us, when we refuse to deny or doubt him through the sundry difficulties of this life. How great is our faith when despite the appearance of disinterest or injustice, we can say, I know my Father is good, that he loves me, and I resolve to look at this trial through the lens of his loving goodness.

That is an attitude any good parent would reward.