An old joke says that the only exercise some people get is jumping to conclusions, but assuming the worst of situations and people is a problem we are all guilty of at times – sometimes all too frequently.
Not surprisingly, the Bible has a good deal to teach us about this tendency and why we need to overcome it. Proverbs 25:8 is a good example. The Message Bible translates this verse as: “Don't jump to conclusions - there may be a perfectly good explanation for what you just saw.” That may not be a literal translation of the Hebrew proverb, but it does show a principle we must all keep in mind.
Just as important as this kind of direct instruction are the many biblical stories that show the folly of jumping to conclusions. One of the clearest is that of the Syrian general Naaman who was afflicted with leprosy and who travelled from ancient Aram (Syria) to Israel to ask the prophet Elisha to pray for his healing. Second Kings 5 tells this story and shows repeated examples of people in responsible positions jumping to unwarranted conclusions.
First we see that the king of Aram sent a letter to Israel’s king on behalf of his general, asking help in Naaman’s healing. As many of us might have done, the Israelite king immediately began to jump to conclusions – going into to a “jump to hyperspace” within a few seconds: “As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, ‘Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” (2 Kings 5:7).
Fortunately, the prophet Elisha was aware of the situation and arranged for Naaman to come to him. “So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, 'Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed'” (vss. 9-10).
While that may sound like a positive ending to the story, the human tendency to jump to conclusions came into play again – almost wrecking the outcome of the situation:
But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not … the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage (vss. 11-12).
We can almost hear Naaman saying this – and perhaps hear our own thoughts if we had been in the same situation: “What a waste of time! I came all this way to ask for help and this guy just brushes me off. Who does he think he is anyway? It looks like I’m not good enough for him – probably he’s biased against Syrians!”
Naaman almost returned to Syria, but fortunately one of his servants persuaded him to just do what he was told to do and the general was indeed healed when he washed himself in the Jordan as instructed (vs. 14). But this story shows that assuming the worst almost led to Naaman not being healed when he was given the opportunity, and at an even broader level to war between Israel and Syria.
In another biblical example ancient Israel came precipitously close to civil war because many of the Israelites assumed that an altar built by some of their tribes was in rebellion against God (Joshua 22:9-34).
So rushing to judgment and jumping to conclusions is dangerous. And the problem of jumping to conclusions is often broader than we may think. Other biblical stories show the many ways we can make unfounded assumptions – such as assuming the worst because of people’s appearances, or because of what they say or do. We may end up wrongfully judging people because we assume their motives, or assume something they say is critical of us. Spiritually, we may assume a principle we have not heard before is not true, or we may assume that specific Bible verses or teachings about them don’t apply to us – but perhaps to someone we know. Perhaps the most damaging way we can assume the worst is by jumping to conclusions about God.
The New Testament shows that many of those who saw Jesus teach and perform miracles jumped to erroneous conclusions. Some thought he was unrighteous in what he did (John 10:33-36), others thought he was mad or demon possessed (John 10:20). Some just presumed that “no good thing” could come out of Nazareth – Jesus’ home town (John 1:46). Although we may not think such reactions apply to us, we can assume the worst of God when things do not go well. We think that perhaps God is angry with us, punishing us, does not care about us – these are all human reactions we may experience at times if we allow ourselves to assume the worst.
Some of us may be more prone to this fault than others, but ultimately we must all work on not jumping to conclusions. The legal principle of “innocent until proven guilty” has saved many innocent lives, and the principle of assuming the best until we have reason to think otherwise has saved many friendships, marriages and other relationships. It’s a sound biblical principle we can apply any and every day of our lives. By all means jump to exercise, but don’t jump to conclusions.