One of the most powerful aspects of Christianity is how it provides an ideal: the character of Jesus Christ.
This provides individuals and communities with several opportunities:
- The opportunity to more fully apprehend this idea.
- The opportunity to compare oneself to the same ideal.
- The opportunity to take steps toward this idea through spiritual disciplines and acts of virtue.
- The opportunity to help others along the path to the ideal.
The danger is the development of the critical mindset. We can easily turn the sharp instrument of logic necessary for comparing ourselves to our understanding of Christ’s virtue into an instrument for apprehending the flaws of others.
The perception of the sinfulness of other people is a powerful asset in that it can keep us safe from wolves in sheep’s clothing. On the other hand it can lead to a disdain and distrust for those we perceive to fall too short, whether Christians or not.
My biggest moral failure, aside from a general idolatrous malaise, is my tendency to see the weakest and most shameful in somebody and instantly file it away as a weakness. I can think of dozens of circumstances in life wherein a disagreement lead to somebody insulting me, which allowed me to exploit said weakness in a vindictive and very hurtful way.
Some of you may know exactly what I’m talking about either because I’ve done it to you, you’ve seen me do it, or you or somebody you know does this. It’s an ugly way to live. I typically use this particular skill as a sour grapes thing. I’ve joked before when my friends move away (they inevitably do because I live in a town that is hated by most of its residents who find themselves unable to leave due to insufficient income and expensive housing costs) that I’ll “think of everything I can’t stand about them and then I won’t miss them.” This strategy actually works. I’ve done it. I’ve also used it to justify the end of a friendship whenever somebody hurts somebody I care about. I’ll just tell my wife the list of horrible things I’ve perceived about this person and say, “Yeah, we’d be better off not having them in our lives.”
Jesus says this:
Mat 7:1-5 ESV “Judge not, that you be not judged. (2) For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (3) Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (4) Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? (5) You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Jesus’ brother puts it this way:
Jas 4:8-12 ESV Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (9) Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (10) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (11) Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. (12) There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
The critical mindset has to be turned inward before one ever judges a brother. And even then, when Jesus spoke of judging, he equated it with taking “the speck out of your brother’s eye.” For Jesus, judging without self-criticism is wrong. But more importantly, judging, to be rightly done, must be for the purposes of helping a brother not hurting them or condemning them.