When someone makes a mistake, how we respond says a lot about us. In school, when someone goofed, it was standard for folks to make fun of that person. For instance, I can remember a friend of mine who sometimes wore the wrong shoes to play pick-up games of soccer. Because he wore the wrong shoes, he didn’t have very good traction. And inevitably, he would go down in spectacular fashion. He thought it was funny, we thought it was funny, so we all had a good laugh. Later, there would be some good-natured ribbing of the physical comedy he was able to create by wearing dress shoes to a soccer game (I told you they were the wrong shoes). This isn’t the kind of mistake or goof I’m talking about (or it might be…). I’m definitely talking about more serious ones like:
Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. – Genesis 9:20-21, NASB
This is serious. Noah drank so much wine he got drunk. And because he was drunk, he lost awareness of what he was doing and where he was. And at some point Noah passed out because he was drunk and left himself in a very undignified state. One of his sons, Ham, had the following reaction:
Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. – Genesis 9:22, NASB
Ham saw the state his father was in and then proceeded to go tell his two brothers. Note that Ham was old enough to have a wife. That meant Ham was old enough to help his father out. He chose not to. Instead, he chose to spread the news of his father’s state with his brothers. We have a word for that: gossip. Basically, Ham took advantage of Noah’s state. Now we could go into the Biblical interpretations of what Ham exactly did, but I’m not interested in that. I’m focusing on the relationship and what Ham didn’t do. He didn’t take care of his father. His two brothers, after finding about what Ham had seen, had a completely different reaction:
But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness. – Genesis 9:23, NASB
They took it upon themselves to do something to help dad. They went and they covered him up. Not only that, but they took great pains not to embarrass him or make the situation worse. Dad wasn’t a source of amusement to them. Rather, Dad needed help after he had committed a serious mistake and they were there to take care of him. Which example illustrates the one God would desire us to follow? That’s easy. If we had really made a big mistake, would we want people to stand by, do nothing to help us, and make fun of us (or point us out as an example) or would we rather folks pitch in to help, all the time trying to keep from embarrassing us further? Naturally, we would want the latter. and if that’s how we want to be treated, then it goes back to that commandment about loving our neighbor as ourselves… that’s how we should treat others.
Thinking along those lines is humbling. How many times did I pile on when someone suffered misfortune? How many times did I stand by and not help? How many times have I shared about a person who has made a mistake when what I should have been doing is trying to help? As I started thinking along those lines, I started thinking about the goof I gave as an example right at the start. How many times have folks made a mistake or been involved in an embarrassing situation and they’ve laughed it off, but really they’re hurting inside? I know that happens a lot more than we’re aware, because I know personally that a lot of times when I’m “laughing at myself,” I am really embarrassed and would rather crawl away somewhere and hide. Folks laughing at me doesn’t make things better. It just makes me want to go hide that much quicker. And I know I’m not alone in that. So maybe those “little” goofs aren’t so little. And that’s when those questions come back up. Instead of laughing at my friend, did I ever go over there, offer my hand, and just help him up without saying a word? No. Convicted as charged, Lord.
When folks falter around us, the natural tendency is to pile on and either make light or make an example of the situation. But this is not what God would have us do. He put us here to help, not hurt. He expects out of us the example we see in Shem and Japheth, not the example of Ham. And you know, when we respond like that, when we take care of others and we don’t make the situation worse, folks notice, especially the one who has made the mistake. It tells them someone cares. They aren’t just the punchline to some joke or some lesson example of how you can mess up your life. We restore hope. We restore dignity. And we do it through love. After all, isn’t this what Christ did for us when He redeemed us from our sin and restored unto us righteousness so we can approach the Father? Absolutely. And that’s why God expects the same of us towards others.