Proverbs 18:17 says that “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” And this truth is central to our understanding of many important concepts and values in Western civilization and American culture, including free speech and due process, not to mention critical thinking skills.
It is all too easy for bad ideas to go unchallenged when we only have the first one to state their case to go on for an accounting of things. Yet this is why peer reviewing academic papers is, at least in principle if not always in practice, an important mark of their trustworthiness.
This is also why when someone stands accused of committing a crime they are said to have a right to not only legal counsel but a day in court where they can face their accusers and question the charges, evidence, and testimony against them.
Believe it or not, this is also why in a healthy political process you will have at least two parties, though preferably more. One party going unchallenged is a danger to themselves and those they are ambitious to govern. But when at least one other party has standing to disagree or propose other solutions, or point out problems with the solutions which have been put forth by the first, we can see thereby possible blind spots and unintended consequences we may want to avoid or else shore up.
This is also why it is so important that unity, for instance, mean more than everyone reaching hasty agreement in the particulars with the first to state their case. To have any enduring value, unity ought to be about a common cause, about shared purpose and values, and about an overriding definition of what success together looks like. When unity becomes nitpicky and precise, demanding absolute uniformity on every particular, the safest and wisest course is to wonder a broader consensus is not acceptable, and to start looking for ulterior motives and selfishness.
The same holds true for how we define what love is and is not. For instance, consider 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
And see here how love does not insist on its own way, but is patient and kind. And consider how love and unity alike will consider more holistically the needs and, wherever possible, even desires of the other person. Neither true love nor true unity will demand definitions which are so narrow that the slightest second-guessing or proposed deviation destroys them. Rather, those who talk as though real love and unity are that fragile typically turn out to be manipulative and abusive, flattering and bullying by turn because what they really want most is their own way, getting downright irritable and resentful when anything interferes with it.
But here too we do well to consider another gem from Proverbs 18. In verse 21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Which is to say that we have to always be careful how we define such crucial and live-giving concepts as love and unity, checking everything against God’s Word both in our own hearts and in what others present to us.
As Proverbs 4:23 puts it,
“Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.”
As Jesus says in Matthew 12:34, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
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