Being Different….Is That A Bad Thing?

     The thirteenth chapter of Numbers records one of the few stories in this Old Testament book. The tale is told that Moses sent twelve spies into the land God had promised Israel. Indeed, the land was as God had told them‒‒a land flowing with “milk and honey.” The spies even brought back with them samplings of grapes, pomegranates, and figs.
However, ten of the spies gave a less than hopeful report. This pack of ten told Moses that the people who occupied the land were too numerous and strong to be evicted by the small Israelite army. Amongst other things, the ten spies said, “We saw there the Nephilim…” (Numbers 13:33, CEB). The Nephilim were a folkloric group of giants (see Genesis 6:1-4).
     What I find interesting about the ten spies’ characterization of the people they saw in Canaan is that they would have had to remain at a distance in order not to be detected. How could the spies determine the size of the people living in Canaan at that time if they couldn’t get a close look? Knowing a bit about human nature, my hunch is that fear distorted their judgement. Simply put, these ten spies are guilty of bias or stereotyping. This is the problem of making judgements of people different than we are from a distance.
     Psychologists say we categorize or typecast by age and race and gender, because our brains are wired to do so automatically. John Dovidio, a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, says, “When you’re a social animal, you need to be able to distinguish who’s a friend and who’s a foe. You need to understand who’s a member of your pack, who’s a member of a different pack.”
     I get that. However, we aren’t chimpanzees that attack other chimpanzees simply because we live on a different side of the river. As Christians, we especially have been challenged to rise above our base inclinations. Besides, bias can lead us to make judgements about a person that are flat our wrong or dangerous.
     Several years ago, ABC’s 20/20 showed a group of children two pictures during a segment that focused on bias. One picture presented the face of a white man and the other of an African American man. When asked which of these two persons was a teacher, the vast majority chose the white man, who happened to be Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the Oklahoma state bombing. The other man was Harvard University professor, Roland Fryer.
The sad part of the story from Numbers 13 is that the Israelites wound up spending forty years in the desert before they finally entered the Promised Land. The Hebrew people’s bias came back to haunt them. My prayer is that, as Americans, we will resist with every fiber of our being from falling into the same trap.
Grace and Peace
Pastor David