Aggressive cars have headlights that are slanted like narrowed eyes. Friendly cars, on the other hand, have grilles that are upturned like smiles.
Aggressive and friendly cars? You might think that it is kind of strange to attribute human qualities to nonhuman objects. But according to The Atlantic magazine (December 2017), an analysis of car sales in Germany found that people make a link between the two. Even more importantly, they really like them. Car purchasers tend to buy cars with smiling grilles and narrowed headlights because they see these features as signs of desirable qualities: friendliness and aggressiveness. There is a reason why I refer to my truck as “Dakota”.
More and more, we are seeing human qualities in nonhuman things, and we are falling in love with them. Amazon's Alexa is a disk-shaped object that we can talk to, and many Americans are now starting their days by asking Alexa to tell them the weather, play them a song, or give them a recipe for dinner. The device may be leading some children to see a wide range of objects as living things, or at least as things that will respond to them. One app developer reports that because of Alexa, his toddler now talks to beverage coasters.
Maybe you remember the movie Her, in which a lonely man develops a relationship with a talking computer operating system. Although the film seemed far-fetched in 2013, it comes across as entirely plausible today. Research is showing that people who feel isolated are more likely to attribute consciousness to their gadgets. Perhaps loneliness is causing us to want to have relationships with our things.
Clearly, there is a danger in seeing objects as humans. We don't want our children to become adults who talk to coasters and fall in love with cars. We don’t want Jasper growing up in Columbus loving Brutus Buckeye more than Jesus. We baptize Jasper into the Lord’s family, into God’s family, into the Lennex and Filipic families, to raise and nurture him in the Christian faith. We want to teach our children that there is danger in seeing humans as objects -- objects that satisfy our personal desires and agendas.
Long before the movie Her was released in theaters, King David saw Bathsheba as an object of desire. He didn't really perceive her as a human being, but as a thing that could respond to him and give him pleasure. She was his own personal Alexa.
David's problems began in the spring of the year. That is when "kings go out to battle," says the author of 2 Samuel (11:1). But instead of doing his job and leading his soldiers, David remains in the comfort and safety of the capital city of Jerusalem. He sends his captain Joab, along with his other officers, to lead his army against the Ammonites, and to lay siege to the city of Rabbah.
Late one afternoon, David lazily gets up from a nap and takes a walk on the roof of his house. He looks down and sees a very beautiful woman taking a bath. He likes what he sees, like a car buyer spotting a car with a grille upturned like a smile.
David sends a messenger to inquire about the woman, and receives a report: "This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite" (v. 3). Bathsheba is a flesh-and-blood human being, daughter of an Israelite named Eliam, one of David's "mighty men" (23:34). She is also the wife of Uriah, a man who has a Hittite background but who is nonetheless a brave and loyal soldier of David.
What is very clear from the report is that Bathsheba is off limits. She is the daughter of one of David's biggest supporters, and is lawfully married to one of his soldiers. But David doesn't see any of these people as human beings, deserving of compassion and respect.
To him, they are objects for him to use. He probably sees Uriah as a car with slanted and narrowed headlights, valued for its aggressiveness.
David says, "Alexa, give me a recipe for personal pleasure." Well, not exactly. Maybe he would do that today. But in ancient Jerusalem, he sends messengers to fetch Bathsheba, and he goes to bed with her. She returns to her home, and soon after sends David the message: "I am pregnant" (v. 5).
Although she had been treated like an object of desire, Bathsheba is clearly a human being -- one who can play a part in the miracle of conception and birth. She is not a gadget who can be turned off when you are finished having fun. No, she has a life, and now she is carrying new life within her.
But King David fails to open his eyes to this truth. Instead, he continues to treat people like objects. "Send me Uriah the Hittite," he says to his captain Joab (v. 6). David asks Uriah about how Joab and his soldiers are doing, and how the war is going. Then he tells Uriah to go down to his house and sleep with his wife Bathsheba. David wants Uriah to cover his tracks.
But Uriah is a human being, not a talking computer operating system. He is going to follow his conscience, not the commands of the king. Instead of going home, he sleeps at the entrance of the king's house with all the other servants.
When David asks him why he has not gone home, Uriah says, "My lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house,
to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife?" No way, he says, "I will not do such a thing" (v. 11). Uriah the Hittite turns out to be more honorable than David the king of the Israelites.
But once again, David is not moved. With a heart as cold as ice, he writes a letter to Joab and forces honorable Uriah to carry it to the battlefield. "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting," David says, "and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die" (v. 15). Joab follows David's orders, and Uriah is killed on the battlefield -- tossed away like an inconvenient object.
David's treatment of Bathsheba and Uriah is a chilling warning to us. It illustrates the deadly danger of seeing humans as objects -- objects that satisfy our personal desires and agendas. Instead of respecting Bathsheba as a woman and a wife, David sees her as an attractive thing designed to give him pleasure. Instead of honoring Uriah as a soldier and a husband, David disposes of him as though he were an annoying, throwaway object. This story packs an emotional punch as it shows the great harm that can be done when we treat people as objects instead of as human beings.
Over the past year, it has become clear that King David is not alone in this particular sin. Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Bill O'Reilly, and others, all have been accused of sexual misconduct. All have treated women and men as though they were objects designed to give them pleasure.
Of course, it is not only kings and celebrities who treat people like objects. Each of us, including myself, in our own way, can put our own desires ahead of another person's welfare, or treat someone as a stepping-stone as we pursue our own agendas. Maybe we befriend a fellow student because they can help us pass a test ...
hire an immigrant day laborer so that we can pay them a cheaper hourly rate ... date a wealthy person so that they will buy us expensive gifts ... keep our employees at a part-time level so we don't have to pay for health insurance.
Treating people like objects is not limited to the world of sexual misconduct. It can happen anywhere and anytime.
Fortunately, a simple formula exists to keep us on the right track: Love people, not things; use things, not people. How differently the story of King David would have turned out if he had really loved Bathsheba and Uriah, treating them as the valuable people they were. Instead, he treated them like things -- things designed to satisfy his desires and advance his agenda.
Remember: Love people, not things. See everyone as a precious child of God, made in the image of God. Respect them as daughters, wives, sons, husbands, mothers, fathers, loyal workers, faithful fellow Christians. Love them as Christ loves them, remembering the commandment of Jesus to love one another. "Just as I have loved you," he said to his disciples, "you also should love one another" (John 13:34).
Also, use things, not people. Use Alexa to tell you the weather and play your favorite songs. Use a car with an upturned grille to get you to work and take your children to soccer practice. Use your smart phone to keep your calendar straight and make you more productive.
But don't ever love these things so much that they draw your attention completely away from the flesh-and-blood human beings around you.
Love people, not things. Use things, not people. Such guidance can be a huge help to us, as we face our objects of desire.