Abraham Lincoln in 1858, age 49
Abraham Lincoln and a friend were talking about a third person that both knew, but neither was fond of. Lincoln said, with his usual wisdom and kindness, “I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.” That is a profound and thought-provoking statement; but what did Lincoln mean by it? I do not think he meant that people are, deep down, really nice and likable and good, and all we have to do is get to know them better. Lincoln was far too acquainted with human nature to be so naive. There are many people who can be good friends until they have to work together or spend a lot of time together, and then, as they do get to know each other better, they get to like each other less. It happens all the time, and it most certainly happened to Lincoln. He did not, after all, say, “I do not like that man– I must get to know him better and then I will like him.” He just said “I must get to know him better.”
Getting to know a person better may not necessarily mean getting to like him, but it may mean learning to understand him; or it might mean coming to respect him despite their differences; or it could mean being able to sympathize with him as you become familiar with his struggles and pain and then feel a kind of kinship with him in that way. All of that can happen between two people even if they are not fond of each other. A relationship can have many more levels besides one’s personal likes and dislikes, and getting to know a person better gives that relationship a broader basis. I think that is what Lincoln meant.
Jesus knows us better than anyone ever could. He knows us even better than we know ourselves. When he was here on earth he could see into people’s hearts and souls, he knew their motives, he knew their inner goodness, and he was aware of their hidden sins. Lincoln had said, “I must get to know him better,” but Jesus already knew everyone in every way. And what he knew most of all about them was that despite their sinfulness, they were all children of the same heavenly Father, each made in the image of God, and loved by God. No matter what they had done and no matter how wicked they were, and even if they were nailing him to a cross, Jesus could look past that and see in them the child of God they were created to be, and pray for them. Jesus would see them as they were meant to be and what they could be, and not only what they had become and were at that moment. The Bible says that God is not impressed with the outward features of a person, but that God sees into our hearts, and He sees there in each of us one of his own.
Helmut Thielicke, the great German preacher of a few decades ago, illustrated this by telling about a boy he knew in grade school. The boy seemed to everyone to be an obnoxious snob, and he was not very well liked. He had no close friends, and was called names by many of the boys, including Thielicke. Thielicke saw this other boy on only one level, and on that level he did not like him, and so felt quite justified in despising him and picking on him. But then one day the boy’s father came to school to pick him up. The man was friendly to the other boys and spoke to them kindly. He was obviously a good man and the boys liked him; and the boys noticed that he obviously loved his son, annoying brat that he was. And in the father’s presence the boy also acted differently. He acted better than he did otherwise. Thielicke describes how he then saw this boy on another level. The boy was not just this unlikable kid, but he was someone’s son, the child of this good man, and loved by him; and for that reason alone, Thielicke did not want to be mean to him any more. He still did not like the boy, but now he knew the boy’s father, and he knew that it would cause that father pain to know that his son was being tormented at school, and Theilicke no longer wanted to cause him pain.
One time a woman with a bad reputation came to Jesus and washed his feet with her tears and with perfume. Those around saw her only in light of her sin, and they objected to Jesus that he did not object to her. And Jesus said to them, “Do you see this woman?,” meaning, ’do you really see her?’ Not, do you see her sin? That was all they did see, that was all they considered. But Jesus said, look at her, and see also how she is grateful for the forgiveness of her sins. They saw her sin. Jesus saw her repentance and her regret for her sin and the possibilities of a new life for her. (continued…)
I Samuel 16:7 — …The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height… The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
A PRAYER OF JESUS:
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)