I am a fantastic critic.
At the same time, I’m a terrible receiver of criticism.
If I hold an opinion about something it must be correct, and if you hold a different opinion you must be the one in the wrong.
I think we all have an idea of what I’m getting at here. We are all self righteous and arrogant to a degree, and because of this we can easily see other people’s flaws, while we fail to see our own.
The concept and theme behind this post has been an idea that I have wanted to address since the inception of this blog. Ironically, I could never quite phrase it right, and it seemed like all I ever did was point fingers, hence the title. I have since discovered that when you point with one finger, three are pointing back.
A friend and I were having a hearty meal of Hawaiian BBQ a couple of weeks ago. Lots of food. Lots of fun. And most interestingly, lots of talk about what Christians should and should not do.
As our food arrived and we opened our to-go boxes brimming with rice, chicken Katsu, Teriyaki Beef, and mac salad, I asked my friend if he went to parties as a segue to inviting him to one.
His response, which went something like “you mean like parties where you drink and get drunk? No,” was an interesting dive into the rest of the conversation. I’ll return to this after some context.
In college, I attended a fairly non-conservative fellowship on campus that had a variety of people from different backgrounds: veteran church goers, “baby” christians (seriously, what does that even mean), people who just showed up, and non-christians. I loved it mainly because of the diversity of the people and the stories that they all brought with them.
However, because of our vastly different backgrounds, we had so many different views on just about everything. We knew about Jesus and what He did for us on the cross so we understood the core of the Gospel. However, we held differing views on the topics of dating, drinking, and interpreting certain parts of the Bible. We were unified in our core beliefs, but we tended to disagree on a few minor details.
Never have I met a more loving group of people, but alas we were human and therefore flawed. Miscommunication and judgement were the elephants in the room that we tried not to address. Poisonous bad-mouthing that undermined relationships and friendships abounded where they shouldn’t have. I remember thinking many times, “How can a unified body be so divided? There is no way that we are an example of Christ to those around us.” We heard one pastor encourage us to call out our brothers and sisters on their sin. In love of course. Another pastor vulnerably shared that he felt that his job as a pastor was to lead humbly by being honest about the vices in his life. And for the most part, we all chose one of those two options.
Back to the dinner story. Neither of us really enjoyed drinking or partying, so it was pretty easy for us to question quite critically why some of our friends and peers loved to drink and party so much. Imagine this: two religious guys in a Hawaiian BBQ shop, eating food, and talking rather loudly about why drinking to the point of drunkenness is not really beneficial to anyone. And then of course we had those Biblical passages about drunkenness pulled out of context, and the question that arose was how we should “call out, in love” our peers on this. You don’t get much more judgmental and self-righteous than we were in that shop.
If you imagine this scenario, but with different topics like swearing, depression, dating, sex, church attendance, and partying, you have a pretty accurate picture of one of the hugest vices that Christians struggle with: self righteousness.
Self Righteous (adj.): having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior.
Back to the BBQ story. Normally, this kind of religious conversation rolls down a path of judgement that spawns more hypocrisy and finger pointing while never actually solving anything. Generally just like normal non religious people, we love to talk about a person’s “problems” with other different people without ever just talking to the person in question from the beginning. Without realizing it often times we create incredibly poisonous environments while tearing down the reputations of friends and peers at the same time.
However, this conversation would take a different turn. My friend, in a moment of humility, while trying to explain to me why he felt drunkenness was an issue, alluded to something that he personally struggles with. Ironically, I also struggle with physical purity.The whole mood of the conversation changed. All of a sudden, we were looking at ourselves and realizing how we were in no place to be pointing fingers or judging anyone else when we had bigger problems than drinking a little alcohol at a party.
We categorized sin or wrongdoing into two categories: Reflexive and Pre-meditated. We classified giving someone the finger and cussing them out after they cut you off as reflexive, and staying awake with your significant other until everyone in the house is asleep as pre-meditated. Basically reflexive is as a reaction and more based upon “the heat of the moment,” while pre-meditated is calculated and thought out.
It’d be less embarrassing and humiliating if we mainly struggled with the reflexive sin. I think most of us think that we only struggle with the reflexive sin. However, my friend and I realized that often, we actually formulate a plan to sin and therefore fail.
We began to question why we were this way, and why no matter how hard we tried to change, we always ended up falling.
My friend would go on to say something along the lines of, “Our planning how to sin is a revealing of a heart problem that we do not have the power to change. Good thing we can ask Holy Spirit to change our hearts since that is what He specializes in.”
Wow. What a journey of a conversation. If only more of our conversations with our peers reflected on how we need grace every day instead of how so and so needs grace every day. There’s this passage that I think really hit this whole idea home for me.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
I’m not saying we should throw accountability out. In fact if you look at verse five, he states the opposite. But I think the answer is right in that verse if you pay attention. Notice how he says to take the plank out. If you are trying to remove something, you generally can’t until you examine what and where it is. So we should reflect and see what is in our own lives first. We should then ask God for the power to remove it and while doing so realize our reliance upon His grace. Then, when we have finally understood our reliance upon Holy Spirit, then we can use that experience to help our brother remove the speck from his eye.
I think the religious phrase “call them out in love” is true, but we just don’t understand the word “love.” Love is what Christ showed us in His grace shown on the cross. We can’t really show that love unless we realize how much we personally need that love in order to soften our own hearts. Accountability should start with our own hearts and seeing what Holy Spirit is doing to our hearts followed by sharing that with those around us to help them see that love as well.