HOW TO ADDRESS PERSONAL BIAS IN RELATIONAL ISSUES

In management courses, a concept that is often raised is an awareness of something called cognitive bias. Cognitive bias is defined as how we think about and perceive issues. This is not only true for the work environment but may be even more critical in understanding how it affects personal relationships. So, what is cognitive bias?

While we believe that we receive information objectively, our brains unconsciously filter data, distorting our perception of reality. Because bias can distort our critical thinking, we become prone to making irrational decisions and inaccurate judgments about others.[i]

What makes this even more critical is we think we are right. Cognitive bias causes us to filter out what we don’t agree with. This is known as ‘confirmation bias,’ which simply means we are unwilling to hear the opposing point of view and are looking for those who agree with us. The ancient wisdom literature spoke of this very danger in the book of Proverbs, of not giving careful consideration of the other side of the story.

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.[ii]

In other words, wisdom allows us to hear another point of view.

In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.[iii]

The Living Bible, which is a paraphrase, states this text like this: “Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight.”

One of the great tragedies of Jesus’ interaction with some of the religious leaders in His hour was that they were unwilling to consider what Jesus was saying and doing, and therefore their blind prejudices kept them from responding in a positive manner. This is not just true regarding our relationship with God but also with others. Are we trying to understand and love others for who they are, or who we want them to be?

In John 10:22-42, we find the scene shifts from the feast of Tabernacles to the Festival of Dedication, which happened about three months later.

Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.[iv]

Here we have a brief introduction to this section of the dialogue and possibly a reason why Jesus was teaching in Solomon’s Colonnade, in which there was more shelter from adverse weather conditions.

Unlike the other feasts which had ancient biblical roots, this particular feast had its origin in comparatively recent history. In 167 B. C., when the Syrian Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes was attempting to establish uniformity of worship throughout his empire, he desecrated the temple in Jerusalem by erecting an altar to Zeus. In a heroic struggle, Judas Maccabaeus led an ultimately successful revolt against the Syrians, and in December 164 B. C. the temple was deconsecrated in an eight-day celebration. This became an annual, joyous commemoration of the victory and the restored freedom of worship.[v]

Most people today know this festival as ‘Hanukkah,’ where the lighting of the candles on the Menorah is a part of that celebration of freedom.

The significance of this as Kenneth Gangel points out was simply the sense of Messianic expectation this festival foreshadowed.

The Feast of Dedication was also a Feast of Lights pointing to a time when Messiah would come to the temple and throw out all invaders, thereby reestablishing the kingdom. These grand visions persisted in the Israeli nation until the sack by the Romans in A. D. 70.[vi]

With this background in mind we understand the ensuing dialogue between Jesus and these particular Jewish leaders. At the heart of the issue is the claims of Jesus and the refusal on their part to be open to understanding who Jesus is. What we believe and how we respond to Jesus is the most critical aspect of human existence. When we finally come to that place in our lives, where we understand that life is not all about my life and my rights and realize that God created us for a specific purpose in order to bring glory and honor to His name, then life becomes for us what God intended.

We are living in a time where we are struggling with identity issues. This passage before us addresses how critical it is to address personal bias in relational issues. In this case, having a clear sense of both the mission and identity of Jesus. Like the Jewish leaders of old, what our response to Jesus is will determine the outcome of our relationship with him as well as others.

THE FIRST ISSUE IN ADDRESSING PERSONAL BIAS IS UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE OF JESUS’ MISSION                

The idea of a messiah, a deliverer who was to come from God and set the people free like Moses had done earlier in their history, was the expectation of the people in Jesus’ hour. Though there was a great diversity of opinion surrounding the nature, mission, and purpose of the Messiah, none anticipated what they were to be delivered from and how it was to be accomplished. What is frightening is that God often works in ways that we do not expect and often miss. We can be disappointed and frustrated when our personal expectations of God are not realized. The term Messiah means ‘the Anointed One.’ It is someone who comes from God. The basic idea was of a deliverer that would bring freedom and restoration to the nation. Most understood this deliverance in terms of a political or military victory over others. What Jesus came to do was bring deliverance on behalf of all of humanity over our greatest problem, namely sin and its consequences in our lives.

A. The question as to Jesus’ mission.

The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’

Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.[vii]

Jesus had demonstrated through the works, signs, and miracles that he was doing that He was the Messiah. That he had not specifically declared this publicly was another matter.

The term ‘Messiah’ or its Greek equivalent ‘Christ’ had too many political and military connotations in first-century Palestine, and such overtones Jesus was always careful to avoid. More importantly, even if Jesus had spoken with utmost clarity, ‘the Jews’ would not have believed on him. John himself is convinced that the actual record of Jesus’ words and works, with all its restraint, was more than enough to bring people to believe that the Son of God was Jesus (20:30-31). …When Jesus says I did tell you, he is not referring to an explicit statement. Had he spoken that plainly, they would have misunderstood him, for their notions of messiahship could not embrace a suffering servant or a kingdom not immediately political and military.[viii]

B. The real issue that impeded their acknowledgment of Jesus.

They had a cognitive bias and therefore were unwilling to listen to Jesus. When you begin to interpret what others are saying through a wrong lens, you end up making terrible decisions. Jesus identifies their problem as lacking a willingness to really understand who He is and therefore enter into relationship with him. What happens is that they were threatened by Him. Those who were open to Jesus would encounter a transformation in their lives and begin to follow Him. What was true then is equally true today. If we embrace Jesus and accept Him for who He is, then real change will happen in our lives because we will begin to follow Him.

‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.’[ix]

Their problem, Jesus said, was not lack of information but failure to belong to his sheep. His sheep understood his works (10:25) and his words (10:27), the indication of true knowing. Accordingly, Jesus knew them, and they evidenced knowing him by “following” him (10:27). Once again John makes clear that his works and words are from the Father (he is God’s agent) and that Jesus’ message is not just about cognitive knowledge but about a personal relationship with Jesus.[x]

C. The benefits of following Jesus.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.[xi]

We return to the beautiful analogy of God being our Shepherd and we, the sheep of His pasture. This theme was familiar to Jesus’ listeners.

Come, let us bow down and in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.[xii]

Here we see that Jesus shares an identical purpose with the Father. Jesus gives people eternal life, in which they will never perish, nor can be taken from the hand of God. This speaks of being confident of God’s keeping grace. God is the One who saves us and keeps us by His grace. Even though we may be weak, as we trust Him, His grace is sufficient.

Rodney Whitacre relates the theological tensions in these texts. People wonder if a person can lose their salvation. If we are genuinely saved, we will continue to follow Christ.

In this passage of infinite comfort this Gospel touches once again upon the mysteries of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. We have both the call of God and the response of faith on the part of the sheep. B. F. Westcott captures the balance well when he says we must distinguish between the certainty of God’s promises and His infinite power on the one hand, and the weakness and variableness of man’s will on the other. If man falls at any stage in his spiritual life, it is not from want of divine grace, nor from the overwhelming power of adversaries, but from his neglect to use that which he may or may not use. We cannot be protected against ourselves in spite of ourselves. He who ceases to hear and to follow is thereby shown to be no true believer, 1 John 2:19.… The sense of the divine protection is at any moment sufficient to inspire confidence, but not to render effort unnecessary.[xiii]

What is he saying? Simply that true believers trust God, and this is evidenced by their continued following of Jesus. Gerald Borchert explains that it wasn’t until later in history that the church struggled with the tension of God’s sovereignty and human freedom.

The perishing of true sheep was an unthinkable idea to early Christians. But contemporary Christians often wrestle with the question because they fail to perceive the logic of the biblical writers. Moreover, they often fear to read thoroughly texts like Hebrews 6. The biblical writers did not have such a superficial view of salvation that would consider walking down the aisle of a church and going through waters of baptism to be a guarantee of salvation. Nor did the biblical writers have a superficial temporal view of salvation based on an inadequate understanding of John 3:3 and other passages. Instead, the biblical writers have no problem placing side by side texts concerning God’s love, grace, and covenant promises with God’s stern warnings to the readers of the Scripture.[xiv]

Borchert warns against the dangers of presenting one side of the equation at the neglect of the other on this issue.

In the same manner v. 26 [you do not believe because you are not my sheep] must not be used by Christian theologians as part of formulating the devastating theory of reprobation (the theology of predestination to damnation, frequently referred to by the nontechnical designation of double predestination). Great care must be observed to avoid such proof-texting theology because at 10:38 Jesus here still continues to issue an invitation to the Jews. When one searches Scripture carefully, one generally discovers the continuing tension between the grace of God and human responsibility for decision making. To be faithful to the biblical tension and present both God as truly God and humans as truly responsible is the task of adequate biblical interpretation.[xv]

What he is saying is that people are responsible for refusing to come to Christ. They do have a choice, but by choosing not to come to Christ they are revealing that they are not Christ’s sheep.

D. The murderous intent of these opponents to Jesus’ claim.

I and the Father are one.

Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’[xvi]

Jesus’ statement of being one with the Father causes a powerful reaction. The hearers’ intentions are to kill Jesus, yet even in this moment of crisis, Jesus is still reaching out to them in loving grace. Here is the mystery of God’s amazing love and grace as Jesus is extending to them the gift of eternal life, despite their anger and hatred toward him.

THE SECOND ISSUE IN ADDRESSING PERSONAL BIAS IS UNDERSTANDING THE IDENTITY OF JESUS

Throughout the O. T. God sent deliverers to His people as described in the book of Judges, as well as messengers or prophets calling the people back to Himself, but now we have the ultimate person, God Himself, speaking to His people in the person of Jesus. He has come to deliver them from the ultimate captivity and bondage, which is sin leading to death or separation from God and others.

A. Oneness with the Father.

When Jesus stated that he and the Father are one, we need to understand a little bit of what he meant.

The first matter to note is that the word “one” here is neuter (hen) and not masculine (heis), so the text is not arguing for a oneness of personalities or personae (to use the Latin concept) but rather something akin to a oneness of purpose and will. …Having made this point, however, it must be stated immediately that there is no intention here of speaking about two separate gods or of asserting the Arian denial of Jesus as God. Such ideas find no support in Johannine Christology. The clear thesis throughout the Gospel from the Prologue (in which the Word is declared to be God, 1:1) to Thomas’s climactic confession (“My Lord and my God!” 20:28) is that Jesus is God.[xvii] 

B. Jesus, the Son of God.

Jesus’ hearers understand that what Jesus is saying is, in essence, making the claim that He is God. Jesus will not deny their remark but explains to them something they need to consider from the Word of God.        

‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’

Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are ‘gods’”?

If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son”’?[xviii]

Jesus is quoting from Psalm 82 in speaking of judges who are men, but in this Psalm are called ‘gods.’

The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

‘I said, “You are gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’

But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler.’[xix]

Rodney Whitacre explains the point of what Jesus is pointing out.

The psalm is actually a condemnation of the judges for not exercising their responsibility faithfully, thus corresponding both to the condemnation of these Jewish leaders in John and to Jesus as the true judge. To make his point Jesus uses an argument from the lesser to the greater, a very common form of argument in the ancient world, not least among the rabbis. He compares the people who are called gods to himself, the Son of God. They merely received the word of God, whereas he is the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world (v. 36). Here is a succinct summary of the central truth of his identity, which has been emphasized throughout this Gospel. He is using the language of an agent (see note on 5:21), but the implication is that he existed with the Father before coming into the world. Thus, he is putting himself in the category of the law that was given by God rather than in the category of one of the recipients of that law.[xx]

The point Jesus is making is that even men are called gods, but we know as the reader that Jesus is not just a man, but also God. Jesus knows that they are spiritually blind and can’t see that the works that He is doing is designed to point them in that direction of understanding.

C. The unity of the Father and Son.

Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father.

But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.[xxi]

Jesus gives us a test for both himself and us. If a person claims to be God’s son or daughter and does not do God’s will, then they are a liar. What Jesus was saying was simply, if what He had been doing was consistent with the nature of God, and demonstrated the power of God, why did they not believe and attribute His works to God? 

D. The mixed response to His message.

Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.

Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. There he stayed, and many people came to him. They said, ‘Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.’

And in that place many believed in Jesus.[xxii]

John ends this narrative section with the response of the people to their encounter with Jesus. We see this intensifying anger and murderous intent on the part of some of the hearers because of their cognitive bias. Others became followers and believed in Jesus.

We are also confronted with the person of Jesus. Who is He? Often like these hearers in John’s gospel, we have cognitive bias that refuses to consider the claims of Jesus. Here we see the choice that we are forced to make. There is no neutrality; we either accept Jesus for who He is, or we reject him. By not deciding for Him, we are, in essence, rejecting Him.

It was C. S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity who wrote:

Jesus…told people that their sins were forgiven…This makes sense only if He really was God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.

…I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[xxiii]

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[i]     Pamela Rollings-Mazza and Tommy Williams, ‘Beware the Dangers of Cognitive Bias, Dec. 13, 2023, www.ncchc.org.

[ii]     Proverbs 18:16, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[iii]    Proverbs 18:17.

[iv]    John 10:22-23.

[v]     Bruce Milne, The Message of John: Here is Your King!, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 151.

[vi]    Kenneth Gangel, John, Vol. 4 (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2000), 200.

[vii]   John 10:24-26.

[viii]   D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 392.

[ix]    John 10:27.

[x]     Gerald Borchert, John 1–11 Vol. 25A, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 331.

[xi]    John 10:28-29.

[xii]   Psalm 95:6-7.

[xiii]   Rodney Whitacre, John, Vol. 4, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 1999), 269-70.

[xiv]   Gerald Borchert, John 1–11, 339.

[xv]   Ibid, 341.

[xvi]   John 10:30-32.

[xvii] Gerald Borchert, John 1–11 Vol. 25A, 341.

[xviii]           John 10:33-36.

[xix]   Psalm 82:5-7.

[xx]   Rodney Whitacre, John, Vol. 4, 273.

[xxi]   John 10:37-38.

[xxii] John 10:39-42.

[xxiii] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 55-56; as quoted by Wayne Martindale & Jerry Root, Eds., The Quotable Lewis, (Wheaton, Il: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990), 340.

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