Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
We were discussing in Part 1 being misunderstood and I’m old enough to remember a hit song from 1964 sung by Nina Simone called “Don’t let me be misunderstood”. Many other solo artists and groups have sung it since, and part of the song says, “Well I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood”.
It’s a good song because no-one likes to be misunderstood, as I said yesterday. It can be hurtful—destroy friendships and relationships, and even break up marriages. We don’t like being misunderstood, but unfortunately we have a problem in communicating what we feel. And then people receive the wrong message, and trouble starts. Maybe you’ve had that happen in your family.
The Pain of Being Misunderstood
Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the greatest composers of all time. As you may know, he was also going deaf by the age of 31. From what we can reconstruct about his life, it appears that his infirmity caused Beethoven a great deal of torment and continued to restrict his social relationships for the duration of his life, despite the fact that he composed some of his most genius scores after losing his hearing.
In a letter written on October 6, 1802, as he struggled to come to terms with what his deafness might mean, Beethoven described to his brothers his increasing despair:
My misfortune is doubly painful to me because it will result in my being misunderstood. For me there can be no recreation in the company of others, no intelligent conversation, no exchange of information with peers; only the most pressing needs can make me venture into society. I am obliged to live like an outcast.
Famous People who Were Misunderstood
Some notable people in history have been greatly misunderstood, and I’m thinking of the British surgeon Joseph Lister (1827-1912) who was a good example of this. At one time back in the 1800s having surgery done on you was pretty much a death sentence. Funeral arrangements were usually made for those who were scheduled to have surgery. A common report by the surgeons was: “The operation was successful, but the patient died.”
Back then doctors did not realise that equipment had to be sterilised. They didn’t know their hands and surgical tools were covered with microscopic, disease-causing organisms. They didn’t realise they were flooding their patient’s body with a deadly army of bacteria and viruses. The doctors were unknowingly killing their patients. This problem was called ‘hospital disease’.
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Joseph Lister had been studying Louis Pasteur’s research on bacteria and its possible connection with infections. From this research, he concluded surgical infections were the result of the introduction of bacteria via the air, hands, etc. In 1865, Joseph Lister developed an antiseptic surgical procedure and had remarkable success with his own surgeries. Our current hospital procedures are based on his antiseptic procedures.
When Misunderstanding Leads to Ridicule
You would think the medical community would have welcomed this helpful information—they didn’t. In fact, Joseph Lister was ridiculed, criticised, and harassed. The medical community didn’t like having its status quo questioned. The nurses regarded Lister’s procedures as eccentric, and they resented the extra work his obsessions with cleanliness were causing. The doctors were angered at the implication they were responsible for some of the deaths.
Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister were personal friends and supported each other when the medical community viciously attacked them. Sometimes they felt they were alone in their struggles to bring the truth to light. People were needlessly dying, and it seemed nobody was listening.
The Germans were the first to use antiseptic surgery (during the Franco-Prussian War) and thousands of lives were saved. America and England stubbornly held out. After many years, however, they slowly (and reluctantly) started implementing antiseptic surgery.
History, of course, has shown Joseph Lister was correct. His persistence has saved millions of lives. The death toll of WWI and WWII probably would have been ten times greater had it not been for antiseptic surgery. In fact, had it not been for antiseptic surgery, many of you would not be here today because your forefathers would not have survived the wars. Joseph Lister was not attacking these doctors; he was only trying to be helpful. He was only trying to prevent needless deaths. But he was greatly misunderstood. What a tragedy!
Christians also Need to Deal with Misunderstanding
If you feel misunderstood, and you’re trying to live as a Christian remember: we can’t control how people respond to us. Rarely will our explanations convince everyone. Sometimes even our close friends will choose not to believe us. At some point we must decide to leave our reputation in God’s hands and walk away from the controversy.
“If you live to please people, misunderstandings will depress you; but if you live to please God, you can face misunderstandings with faith and courage,” said Warren Wiersbe. At some point we must decide to leave our reputation in God’s hands and walk away from the controversy.
We must not return evil for evil. This is also hard, especially when your motives are repeatedly attacked. But in this we are to be like our Lord who when he was reviled did not return evil for evil. When he faced the shouting crowd, he did not trade insults, he did not try to get even, and he did not make accusations. I submit to you that this is not a natural way to live.
Christ did not retaliate when he was misunderstood.
When we are insulted, our natural inclination is to return an insult for an insult. But Jesus chose another way. As the old spiritual puts it, He never said a mumblin’ word. In the Bible we read: “As a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). When he stood before Pilate and Herod, and when he faced the jeering mob, he uttered no insults, he made no threats:
- When they swore at Jesus, he didn’t swear back.
- When they scourged him, he didn’t retaliate.
- When the soldiers pushed the crown of thorns on his head, he didn’t curse at them.
- When they drove the nails in his hands and feet, he didn’t threaten them.
- When the bystanders spat at him, he didn’t spit back.
- When they swore at him, he didn’t swear back.
This will happen to you too. And that’s the real test of your faith. You’ll find out what you really believe when others mistreat you. Sometimes the real test of your faith is what you don’t do. Sometimes you’ll be a better Christian by not saying anything at all.