Have you ever felt like someone just didn't like you for reasons completely unknown to you? You never had any problems with them, yet they seemed to work hard to point out your faults and celebrate your failures. Maybe they even sought ways to trip you up. On the flip side of this equation, have you ever disliked someone so much that you rooted for them to fail even though they really hadn't done anything to make you feel that way? This could be caused by envy, jealousy, or an inferiority complex.
Both of the hypothetical scenarios mentioned above are driven much more by emotion than by logic or clear thinking. Both are examples of the "ad hominem" way of relating to others. The Word of the Week for this week is the Latin phrase "ad hominem". Webster defines the phrase as "appealing to people's emotions and prejudices rather than their ability to think". When translated into English, the phrase literally means "to the person". The phrase is often referred to as the type of argument where one party attacks the other on a basis that is completely irrelevant to the actual argument. All you have to do today is turn on any political talk show and you will likely see some candidate attempting to discount the other's leadership ability by bringing up any negative information he can find even if it is not directly related to his opponent's ability to lead.
In the Bible, a good example of this very thing is the story of Daniel in the Old Testament. In Daniel 6:3, it says, "Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom". This obviously didn't make the other administrators too happy, so they "tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so" (v. 4). As the story goes on, we see that they resorted to an "ad hominem" plan since they couldn't find fault in him regarding anything relevant to his ability to govern. They appealed to his commitment to pray to God alone while also appealing to King Darius' desire to be the only one that men are allowed to pray to over a thirty-day period. These administrators tricked King Darius, who thought highly of Daniel, into putting a decree in writing that would likely lead to Daniel's end. You know the story from your childhood as "Daniel in the Den of Lions", because that was the penalty spelled out in the decree for praying to any god or man aside from King Darius. Daniel kept his commitment to prayer because it was a matter of faith, not human logic. King Darius allowed himself to be manipulated because his desire for authority and decision to write the decree was about his emotions, not sound thinking. Daniel had clearly proven himself worthy of the authority he was about to receive, but he and the king were had by the administrators' "ad hominem" method.
I believe there are two takeaways for us from this story as we consider how we are affected by "ad hominem" plans. First, many of you know the end of the story of Daniel in the Den of Lions. The latter part of Daniel 6 tells us that King Darius was greatly distressed after realizing what he had to do according to his decree. It also tells us that God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions. So Daniel basically hung out with them (I like to think he played with their manes the same way we pet dogs) all night long! To prove to us that it was indeed God's divine protection and not "faulty" lions, the men who used the "ad hominem" argument against Daniel are thrown into the den and immediately destroyed. From this, we see that we have no reason to fret when others attack our character, faith, or feelings in ways that are totally irrelevant to the actual argument. What really matters is that we check our own motives, attitudes, and actions. If we are innocent in God's sight, He will handle it. Daniel did nothing except trust in his God. As 1 Peter 5:6 reminds us, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time". People will attack us as the spiritual battle over souls rages on and some of those attacks will be completely unfair, but we need only to remain humble and let God be our Defender.
The second and less obvious takeaway for us is that we are all susceptible to being had the way King Darius was. Frankly, every time we give into the temptation by Satan to make sinful choices even though we CLEARLY KNOW that such choices are inconsistent with our relationship with Christ, we fall victim to his "ad hominem" scheme. For us as Christians, sin appeals to our feelings and emotions, but rarely to our clear logic. Count me as one who believes there isn't much we can do to change our feelings. However, what we CAN and MUST do is recognize that sometimes our feelings lead us astray and pray that the Holy Spirit be the only guide for our emotions.
As you reflect on the story of Daniel and this phrase, understand that you have no control over how others attack you or appeal to your feelings. You do have control over how you respond to it. Putting your faith in God and letting His Spirit lead you makes all the difference in the world!