All’s fair in love, war and merchandising, right? Everyone who wants to sell something employs every trick they can imagine to lure you into buying their product, from ideal lighting in furniture stores to waxing apples in the grocery store to make them look more appealing. So if Ikea did, in fact, come up with their approach as a way of manipulating consumers, it’s just a variation on a familiar theme. Need I say anything about advertising? It is all about using every ploy in the book, and some that aren’t in the book, to convince you that whatever the product is, you can’t live without it. By the way, am I the only one or does it seem to you that the obvious catch in the familiar “lifetime guarantee” you so commonly hear advertised as a “come on” is, “whose lifetime are we talking about?” My suspicion is that it is usually defined as the lifetime of the product, so when it goes belly up the guarantee is no longer in place since its life is over.
How is manipulation different from trying to motivate another to a given behavior or action? I suspect at least some of that is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s manipulation is another’s motivation or salesmanship. But I do think there are a couple of things that characterize true manipulation. One is a lack of honesty. When someone is up front and open about what they are trying to encourage me to do and why they want me to do it, then that person is probably not manipulating. I am able to evaluate the action he or she is encouraging me to take on its true merits. The other quality that marks manipulation is lack of real love. If someone really is looking out for my best interest because they love me, there will be no manipulation. When supposed love gets mixed with a profit motive, look out. I have encountered a number of people who work for companies that talk a good line. “We’re just out to help the people we’re selling our product to. That’s our goal.” Really? Making money isn’t a factor? You have no profit motive, you’re just in it to help people? Everyone knows the bottom line is profit. That causes me to question the “we’re out to help people” line. I’d personally feel better if a company said, “we really believe in our product and we think it’s good for you. However, to be frank, we’re trying to make an honest dollar here.” I can respect that.
Here’s an interesting question: does God manipulate? I know even asking the question sounds disrespectful, but I wonder if Christians don’t feel almost like that’s what He does....like God moves the pieces around on the chess board, and He’s pursuing his own purposes at what we occasionally feel is our expense. Have you ever felt like God was manipulating you? I hope not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve at least wondered about it.
We can be confident that God never does manipulate us. Remember the two elements usually present in manipulation—dishonesty and lack of love. Those are never true of God. He is always up front about what He is doing in our lives. In Romans 8:28-29 Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” God has a purpose. It is to work in our lives to make us like Jesus. He never hides that. It is not ulterior, it is a completely revealed agenda. Ephesians 1:11 speaks of the purpose of God’s will, and in verse 12 says it is that we “might be for the praise of his glory.” God makes no bones about this. He is always working toward that end in our lives. Everything that he does, everything he allows to happen, is moving in that direction. He is quite up front that at every moment of our lives he is working toward that goal. Whatever has happened in your life today, whatever happens tomorrow, God wants to use it to make you more like Jesus so that you will be to the praise of his glory.
The other truth we must remember is that everything God does is motivated by love. 1 John 4:8 tells us God is love. He is love in action. When he pursues his purpose in our lives He is doing so because he cares about us. His purpose will always result in our good. It may, no not may, it will involve pain in the short run at times. Accomplishing good almost always does involve discipline and some level of pain. But in the long run His purpose is always the best course for our true good and health. Because He is true love, God is the one being in all that exists who can pursue both his purpose and our good at the same time. When we claim to do that we usually end up with an ulterior motive. Usually we kid ourselves, but our purpose typically wins out over the other person’s good. Not so with God. Whatever may happen in your life, and sometimes it can be awfully confusing, at all times know that God is carrying out his openly declared purpose and He is at the same time doing what is for your best, because He loves you.
So in the end, I suppose this wandering reflection suggests a couple of actions. One is to trust God’s motives and actions. It is to see that God’s purpose at every moment is to make us more like Jesus and to bring good to us because he loves us. But the corollary is that we, in fact, are to be like Jesus. Which means in our dealings with others we must put away manipulation just as God does. Two things are required. First, be honest. Begin with being ruthlessly honest with yourself about your motives, then be open and honest with others about what you want. If you are trying to persuade others to act in a particular way, or to believe a particular thing, lay the truth right out in the open. That’s great advice for parents, by the way. Then second, like God, make sure that in everything you do as you interact with others, your motive is to love them. You must aim at bringing good into their lives. Be wary of mixing some hidden personal motive in there. If you let that ulterior motive have even a hint of oxygen, it will spring into life and take over the whole thing. That’s just how we are.