I met a woman once who had just had her cataracts removed. She couldn’t stop talking about it, because she couldn’t believe the change. “The colors,” she said. “I didn’t even remember what the colors looked like.”
Jesus begins this chapter with a very clear message about our inability to see. He says “why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,” when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” Matt. 7:3-5 (NLT).
So how do we get rid of the log in our own eye, when we can’t even see the log? How do we do cataract surgery on ourselves?
Here’s the most eye opening thing I’ve ever read on the subject:
“Realize that whatever we are angry about in someone else is most likely something we need to deal with in our own lives. That is one of the primary reasons we see the problem in the first place, because it is, first, our problem. It’s just that it is easier to recognize in someone else. Easier to point the finger than to face the truth…. It’s been said that when the preacher shouts, it’s because of a personal struggle with the issue at hand. You get worked up over what you are battling in your own life… This is why those who judge will be judged. It comes back like a boomerang…. I’m simply not smart enough to see anything other than what I know… Identify the things that bother you most about other people and you’ll have a pretty good idea where your own problems lie.” 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee by John Fischer.
This principle explains why we saw the pre-exposure Elliot Spitzer yelling: “we shouldn’t go after the prostitutes! We should be going after the MEN who are WITH the prostitutes.” The man he was prosecuting was himself. Start paying attention to what upsets other people, and you’ll recognize that they are condemning things in themselves. But remember: it’s something they’re not aware of. We should bear in mind the words of Christ on the cross: “forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.” The Bible isn’t primarily about recognizing what’s wrong with other people. It’s a mirror onto our own souls.
When I first read John Fischer’s paragraph about if we’re yelling, it’s at a problem we share, I put the book down and thought: “that’s not true.” I had just gotten furious with a child for wanting to go to school in a snowstorm without a coat. “I’m not like that,” I thought. But having just read Fischer, I went deeper. I went past my resistance and asked: why wouldn’t someone wear a coat in the cold? The answer was simple: vanity. “But I’m not v…” I started to say, then had to stop. Hold it. Didn’t I go out in ridiculously high heels? Didn’t I wear a paper thin coat in the winter soemtimes? Wasn’t I a victim of vanity? Absolutely. The interesting thing to me was that I hadn’t been aware of just how vain I was, until I was willing to ask the question: am I vain. The implications were enormous: if this concept was true, did that mean that if I criticized 100 things a day in my heart as I walked around the streets of New York, was I seeing 100 of my own flaws a day? The answer, I believe, is yes, and it’s one of the most humbling things I have encountered.
So instead of letting the enemy wind you up like a toy, and toss you around in the throes of violent anger and condemnation, use your anger. Use your condemnation like a mirror: when you feel angry at someone else, when you feel your heart hardening in bitter condemnation, stop and ask God: “why am I angry? And what of that is in me?”
God will show you flaws you didn’t know you had. But that’s a good thing. Because God never shows us our flaws in order to belittle us. He doesn’t do it to make us wallow in self-hatred. He puts his arm around our shoulders in love and says, “Let’s have a look at this.” And in the context of his love, we look at our behavior and say: “ewww.” That’s pretty much the only way to describe the reaction. Because we don’t want to be like that. And God responds: “I was waiting for you to say that. Come on. Let’s work on it together.”
After all, it’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance. Romans 2:4. And the bottom line here is that the more we see how kind God is to us, the more he softens our hearts to be kind to others. “The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race… He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do.” Ps. 33:13-15. God already knows what’s in your heart, and He adores you. Give him permission to get rid of the bad stuff. Ask for his help. He’ll take the forests out of your eyes, and you’ll see the trees clearly for the very first time. Let him be your surgeon. If you do, for once, you can look at your neighbor not with condemnation, but in love. You can view people who get caught – like Elliot Spitzer with his prostitutes – not as some sick pervert whom we get to condemn – but as a fellow traveller whom God loves. It’s like seeing in color for the very first time.