Determining the motives of others is wrong. All have motives for what they do. Many of the motives that folks often have are not good. How can one be certain what some else’s motives are? Judging actions is appropriate; God commanded Israelis to do this. There are some great restrictions on judging motives, however. God alone knows the heart:
1 Kings 8:39 Hear Thou in the heavens, Thy dwelling place. And forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart Thou knowest. For Thou, only Thou, knowest the hearts of all the children of men.
Matthew 12:34 The mouth speaks from the abundance of the heart.
A person will talk about what he thinks. Words can be used against the person who spoke the words. Many, however, tend to assume motives based upon their own views and cultures. That is not justice, and it isn’t right. Judgment of any kind must be based upon facts, not upon what might be true or appear to be true.
Everyone’s counsels of the heart will be exposed at the time of judgment (see 1 Corinthians 4:3 below).
Trying to figure the motives of others is not harmful. This is not the same as determining the person’s motives. Concluding what those motives are is wrong, and exposes the faulty character of the person who assumed motives for another’s actions.
Some have the audacity and arrogance to declare why others did what they did: “She did that because she’s just jealous!” “He said that because he’s a liar!” “He gave that to you because he feels guilty.” Anyone who makes such declarations without hearing the motives from the person who did the actions is behaving as if he or she is a prophet/prophetess, speaking the words of God! Some even have the increased audacity to tell folks to their faces why they did what they did: “You wanted to read the will first because you knew that you would get very little!”
Do You Know?
Some think they know others very well. They have an idea of why others do what they do based upon watching them and others, and why they themselves might do such actions. If someone’s behaviour ‘bugs’ me, I will probably think that that person ‘bugs’ everyone. Most folks see others according to their own frames of reference (their own ways of viewing things in life). If they respond to others’ actions as if their views are right, they will often improperly respond.
Facts are true, but they don’t always give full information. Getting to the facts is an art for which every Saint is responsible. Judging is rendering a right decision based upon all the facts, not upon the feelings!
You Are Lying to Me!
Anyone giving a particular side of an issue is giving observations from his point of view. Someone else who saw the very same thing will often disagree with parts of the description, and sometimes will disagree with the entire description. Everyone hearing what happened will hear something different. If two describe the same scene, yet disagree with each other, one might be inclined to say, “You are lying!”
Lying is not merely giving false information; it is giving false information with intent to give false information. One who accuses the other of lying is also claiming that the other is intentionally twisting the facts into a lie. This can result in great and needless offense. If the person is truly lying, this can be a great wrong, but if the person is not, but is mistaken concerning what he or she observed or heard, accusing the other person of lying is a great wrong. Assuming that someone is lying is a great violation of justice, but it is common practice.
Saints in the Scriptures did not assume that others were lying even when it appeared that way. They kept the facts they observed to themselves until all the facts were known, or they dealt with others as if there were no questions about their honesty.
Careful deliberation with patience is very wise. It avoids years of hurt and bitterness, and can avoid bloodshed.
Innocent until Proven Guilty?
The Scriptures do not teach that all are innocent until proven guilty.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart [mind] is deceitful above all, and terminal. Who can know it?
They teach that violent sinners have a deceitful and terminal mind from the fall of Adam. Yet, the Scriptures also declare that it is wrong to judge anyone before the time of the person’s judgment (whether that judgment is the final one, or is personal or legal):
1 Corinthians 4:3 “It is a very small thing with me that I should be judged under you or under man’s judgment. Indeed, I don’t judge myself! 4For I know nothing by myself; yet, I am not justified by this. But he who judges me is the Lord! 5Therefore, judge nothing before the time—until the Lord comes—Who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts. And then every man shall have praise from God.”
A Biblical counselor is not the same as an advisor. A counselor not only proposes what should be done, but also carries the idea out. If a person only gives the idea of what should be done, that is an advisor. If this is true, counsels of the heart are both the plans/plots and the actions done. Since the heart is the mind, all plans/plots of each person’s mind, including what the person did, will be publicly exposed in the judgment. Those who did well will have praise from God.
Anyone who judges before the time prejudges. This is how we get the word prejudice. Assuming that anyone is guilty or innocent is equally wrong. The best way to view each person is with kindness and skepticism (which means that all the facts are not present, and yet automatically trusting folks isn’t wise). If one is kind, he/she will treat others in a way that will carry no regrets in the future. If one is skeptical, he/she will not assume that everyone is harmless or innocent.
Benefit of a Doubt
When parents treat their children with kindness and skepticism (some call this giving them the benefit of the doubt), those children are given the opportunity to show what they can do, and why. Parents who quickly accuse their children of wrongdoing (without finding what they are doing and why) violate the command to not drive their children to wrath:
Ephesians 6:4 And, ye parents, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
If the parents continue provoking their children, a broken and untrusting relationship with their children will later develop. Parents who believe their children much more than they should will end up with insecure children who will take wrong paths (and will be ‘brats’). Parents who listen carefully to each case and ask their children questions regarding their thoughts (including their motives) will increase the likelihood that their children will talk with them.
It is not wrong to discover motives. There are wise procedures for rightly ascertaining motives, including the following:
- Directly asking
- Discussing an issue, and deftly considering reasons the doer of the actions offers for his or her actions
- Considering other similar actions of the person, and asking why the person did those actions (this can lead to a wrong conclusion)
- Overhearing someone brag about the actions and why he did them
- Asking a person in a similar culture why such an action would be done (this can lead to a wrong conclusion)
- Describing a totally unrelated, but similar action of someone else (whether fictional or not) to the doer of the action in question, and asking why someone would do that
Be cautious when attempting to find why someone did something when you are very angry. Anger blinds against justice; lynch mobs prove this. Time can allow anger to diminish so that justice can be pursued. If your anger builds with time, you are probably trying to prove in your mind that the other person is guilty of having evil motives. Some just ‘write someone off’ (“You’re no longer my friend!”) or will try to put what happened out of their minds (a very bad idea). Take the time to find out what you can before giving up or drawing a conclusion why something occurred.
Asking the Right Questions
Once anger has cooled enough for justice to be pursued, ask the person (with whom you are angry) questions. Make certain that your questions are not accusatory. “Why did you do such and such?” is quite blunt, and may produce the wrong result. Start by describing the scene slowly: “You and I were outside, yesterday. You were roasting those delicious steaks on the grill—they were very good! When Bobby said, ‘Johnny doesn’t say much,’ you said, ‘Johnny doesn’t have much to say. I laughed, because I normally don’t have much to say. I was wondering, though, do I really give the impression of greater than normal ignorance?”
If you cannot ask right away, wait. If you will never be able to ask, don’t become bitter. You may also say, “What happened confused me; I don’t understand why it took place,” or some other statement like that. This gives the other person a chance to tell what happened before you accuse him of anything.
There is rarely a reason for assuming that someone is guilty of doing a harmful act with evil motives (unless the person is known for violence). There sometimes are reasons for assuming that someone is innocent, but if you want justice, wait and ask. If the other person is also angry, use diplomacy!
After asking and receiving an answer, you will sometimes wonder if the story is true. Ask more questions if you can. There is an art to getting to the bottom of an issue. Columbo, in the famous television series, was an expert. He asked and asked until he obtained answers. He was never offended.
Being ‘Unoffendable’ while Pursuing Justice
Anyone who truly pursues justice cannot be easily offended. Those who are easily offended make rash decisions and choices, get easily distracted, do violence, become guilty themselves, and teach others to do the same. When folks feel ‘cornered,’ some will sling accusations. Ignore those accusations in order to find justice; they distract and will start a new argument or issue where there was none before.
A defensive person tends to react to what he thinks are accusations against him either by feeling guilty and defending, by backing away from the real issue, by throwing back hard accusations, by sarcasm, or by some other means of shielding himself from bad feelings in the situation. If both become involved in a war of words, the volley will lead to injustice and a stalemate. If justice is not the result of a discussion, anger usually grows. Being ‘unoffendable’ is a key to justice. Agree with the other person whenever possible even if he is slinging accusations at you. This will sometimes disarm him and lead to a resolution. Sometimes it won’t. At least the one seeking justice by proper means has done right.
Parents often struggle with ascertaining the motives of their children. When a youth does something wrong and a parent asks why, a common answer is, “I don’t know.” This response can be aggravating. If the parent starts to lecture, the youth will shut the parent out, hearing only what he wants to hear and becoming very angry. There are now two angry individuals, but the parent has the power. If he responds to the child’s attitude in anger and punishes (I did not say chastises), what good has been accomplished? This is harmful and destructive to the relationship.
Punishment is inflicting bodily damage or loss for an offense that cannot be rectified (made right). Chastisement is properly rearing, teaching, and training another in order to reach the goal of independence.
If a parent responds in anger and the child does not understand the justice of the parent’s anger, a wedge will form in the relationship, giving the youth a desire to escape. The parent will have much greater success if he takes the time to respond to the new issue. The first issue was the offense. The new issue is the child’s not knowing why he did what he did. “It disturbs me more that you don’t know why you did what you did than the act itself. I want you to think about this and let me know. I cannot do justice in this case until I understand why this action took place. Until you know and are able to tell me why you did this, you are grounded…” A very young child will not be able to give a good answer—he did it because he felt the urge. This must be modified for him. Teenagers and pre-teens, however, will be able to respond. This gives the parent a chance to cool off, and it gives the child a chance to construct his case. The teen or pre-teen child will usually desire to get out of the grounding and to minimize damage. If the youth is very bitter, however, grounding will be received with more anger and bitterness; it isn’t a wise route in that case.
How a parent responds at this point is crucial. Discovering the motives and caring about them (the motives), combined with quietness and patience, will do more good than being heavy-handed. If the admitted motives are evil, one course of action is necessary. If the admitted motives are not evil, the parent can either suggest other ways to accomplish something beneficial or can ask the child to come up with other ways to accomplish the goal without causing harm to relationships. If a youth is just a willful ‘hard-head’ (be careful, parent, that you don’t assume this when it is not the case!), take stronger action. Be right, though. You can do damage if you are wrong, and you can do damage if you do nothing.
Do not be quick to assume that rebellion is what is occurring. Teenagers need to learn independence. What appears to be rebellion is often an attempt to gain (or steal) some freedom to make one’s own decisions. Parents who refuse to grant independence will usually finally push a child into rebellion. Parents who grant a measure of trust and equal responsibilities will be much more likely to have a successful relationship.
Seek wise counsel. The Bible mentions the extremes:
Deuteronomy 21:18 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them, 19then his father and his mother shall lay hold on him and bring him out unto the elders of his city and unto the gate of his place. 20And they shall say unto the elders of his city, “This our son is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey our voice–a profligate and a drunkard.” 21And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones. And he shall die. So shalt thou put evil away from among you. And all Israel shall hear and fear.
Ephesians 6:4 And, ye fathers, don’t provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Don’t try the Deuteronomy text in our society. You will get what you deserve if you do! Yehovah commanded this to Israel with the proper justice mechanisms in place. A hardened child, however, can be placed in a correctional facility. This is rarely needed, but there are bitter children who are not correctable by ordinary and good means.
Lying about the Motives
Suppose a youth lies about his motive. What should the parent do? Parents often suspect their children of lying, and sometimes they are right. Suspicion is not enough according to the Teaching (Torah, wrongly rendered Law) of Moses. It is better to patiently wait for the youth to get caught, and then take strong action. He needs to be warned, however. “If I find that you lie to me or to anyone, and you are not in the process of saving the life of an innocent person from the hands of guilty criminals, you will find how great my wrath can be.” If the child does lie, inform him that he has destroyed the trust relationship, and it will be very difficult to rebuild it. Ask the youth what he is going to do about this. After this, strong actions of other types will sometimes be necessary: forms of grounding, etc. Violence is never wise. Take your time. Good counsel is vital in these types of decisions. If you find that lying has been part of the child’s behaviour, ask him why. Find out his motives, if you can. If you cannot, take action. A parent does not have to know the motive to respond to the action. Knowing the motive can help.
The same is true in friendship relationships. Carefully confront; do not be quick to accuse. Accusations are rarely ways to make peace.
It is often impossible in life to discover motives for behaviour. Some folks do things without knowing why they did them. Other folks know exactly why they did what they did, but have no intention of telling why; it is none of the business of others, in some cases.
Sometimes a person knows his motives, but is too ashamed to state them. He may give clues, however. If a woman practices bulimia, she may be terrified to give her motives. She may have fears that directly block her from facing these issues. Her discussions, however, will include clues. Wisely trained psychologists know how to gather clues, but wise men and women in general can do the same thing. The discovery of a motive can lead to a correction of a problem.
There is always a motive behind sin. The motive is never good, but it is important. Joshua desired to know Achan’s actions (and motives, if possible) before he killed him:
Joshua 7:19 And Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to Yehovah the God of Israel, and make confession to Him. Tell me now what thou hast done. Keep it not back from me.” 20And Achan answered Joshua and said, “Indeed I have sinned against Jehovah the God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done. 21I saw a beautiful mantle of Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a golden bar of fifty shekels weight among the spoils, and I coveted them and took them. And behold, they are hid in the soil in the midst of my tent. And the silver is under it.” 22And Joshua sent messengers. And they ran to the tent. And behold, it was hidden in his tent, and the silver under it. 23And they took them out of the midst of the tent. And they brought them to Joshua and to all the children of Israel, and laid them out before Jehovah. 24And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the mantle, and the bar of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had. And they brought them up into the valley of Achor. 25And Joshua said, “How hast thou troubled us! Yehovah will trouble thee this day!” And all Israel stoned him with stones. And they burned them with fire, and stoned them with stones.
Anyone who assumes another’s motives is interfering in Yehovah’s territory, for Yehovah only knows the hearts of all the children of men. Wrong assumptions regarding motives will lead to great injustice. Some parents always assume that their adult children do things with good motives. They are blind to the truth regarding their ‘little innocents.’ Other parents assume that their children have evil motives when this is not always the case, and they become bitter against their children. Children learn, and assume motives in their friends. The court systems in the United States sentence individuals based upon motives. This nearly always leads to injustice. A wise person will seek the motive behind actions while realizing that anyone can lie about his motives and give a strong case built on a lie.
Be cautious. Be careful. And quit reading this document just to find out how many texts I used to prove my points!