The note was addressed to the leadership of our ministry, but for some reason it was put in my box to deal with. A few weeks earlier our facility had been used as a wedding venue. Several of our ministry staff volunteered to help with the logistics of the celebration. A couple hundred people had sat through the ceremony and then stood in a reception line before sitting down for a meal. Part of the line went up a short flight of stairs. The note was from someone who attended the wedding and observed an elderly man struggle to get up the five steps. The writer was deeply concerned that no one assisted the man. The punch line of the message was, “How can you call yourselves a Christian mission organization when not one of your staff helped him? I will certainly never support your ministry when you won’t even serve the needy in your own building.”
My first impulse was anger. How can this person blame us for something that dozens of others stood and passively watched? Our staff were in the kitchen helping prepare the meal; they weren’t even there. And where was the note-writer in all this? Why didn’t she provide the needed assistance? But then after a few minutes of stewing, I felt the pang of the allegation. Why didn’t one of us help? How did we not notice this need? Were there others who thought badly about us? How could we show people that we really are good?
What’s under the surface?
Sure, there are situations where charges of wrongdoing are appropriate and need to be made. When we see injustice, almost everyone desires it to be made right. People should be held accountable for hurtful behavior so that changes can be instituted and wrongs corrected. But behind many informal indictments of wrong doing there is more going on. Accusers want to see someone suffer for the hurt that’s been inflicted. The urge for payback is strong when a person has been offended or unjustly treated (read post on Anger). And then there are times when accusers are projecting their own sense of guilt or shame onto another (which is what I believe was happening with the note-writer). Finding someone to blame for the wrong around us or our own failings seems as natural as breathing. However, accusations thrown at others easily morph into full-fledged judgments and plots for vengeance.
But, with what are we aligning ourselves when we become finger pointers?
Jesus said, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37 NLT). There is a “boomerang” spirit that is loosed when I begin to damn others for their sins and failings. I can’t escape being negatively affected as much, if not more, than the person I’m condemning. When I zero-in on another person’s fault, bad behavior or transgression, be it legitimate or merely something I’m imagining, I end up rehearsing the offense over and over in my thoughts. It easily plants itself and grows. The Bible calls it a root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). The deeper this shoot goes down into my soul the more evil the other person appears and the more righteous my position feels. With the bitterness comes a blindness that distorts the way I see other parts of reality.
Partnering with The Accuser
If you do a word search in the Bible for “accuse” or “accuser,” you won’t find too much that is positive or redemptive. The Old Testament prophets accused Israel of breaking their covenant with God, but those accusations were meant to motivate repentance and restore relationship with their Maker. On the negative side, Jesus Himself was accused of being a blasphemer, a law-breaker, a drunkard and a deceiver. Those condemning Him were not seeking any kind of reconciliation. It flowed out of plain old spitefulness that He would not submit to their narrative.
The Bible reveals that God is not an accuser at heart. Ultimately the accusing spirit flows from a very dark place—Satan, the chief accuser of humans (Zechariah 3:1-2; Job 1:6; Revelation 12:10). What we have to realize is that when we point our fingers at other people’s sin or bad behavior, God sees our heart motivation—and so does Satan. If my words are not meant to humbly help others toward repentance or positive change but merely to make sure they feel the weight of guilt, shame and punishment, I have not aligned myself with God. I have instead put myself squarely under the shadowy influence of the Evil One who delights in prosecuting everyone’s sins, yours and mine.
An incident in the early years of my marriage is forever burned into my memory. I went to bed upset with my wife one night. My parting thought before I rolled over to go to sleep was a statement intended to make her feel bad. I declared in so many words that she was still the same as she was before she knew Christ. As I closed my eyes, smugly believing I had “taught” her something, a cold darkness filled my heart, and I felt the sensation of falling into it. Creepy things were grabbing at me. I immediately knew that I had crossed a line into some very dark realm. I sat up, heart racing, stunned and scared. Turning, I begged Christine for forgiveness, which she quickly and mercifully gave. All these years later, I can’t forget where my accusing and condemning words took me. And of course they didn’t do my wife any good either.
What Can We Do?
We are going to see people do things that are offensive, hurtful and wrong. How do we deal with them without becoming finger pointers? The first thing I have to always do is go to God and ask Him what His perspective is on the particular issue at hand. I have to lay my offense and anger at His feet. At this point I can also ask Him why I’m feeling the way I do. What kind of nerve has been touched within? Is it an old hurt that has never been dealt with? Perhaps it doesn’t even have much to do with the present situation. Or is it my guilt and shame that’s being stirred, and I’m wanting to project it on to someone else? So much can be learned and dealt with when we take the time to go to God first before opening our mouths, posting our thoughts or writing and sending notes. God wants to give His children divine wisdom that’s different than what the world offers, if we’ll only ask for it.
I often have to forgive someone for acting stupidly, talking insensitively or doing something else that triggers negative feelings. Forgiveness (see post Choosing to Let Go) is the way I snip off the root of bitterness before it has the chance to burrow into my heart. It’s also helpful for clearing my soul and making room for a response that I won’t later regret. Ultimately, God wants to show us how to speak the truth in love. “Love” without truth is meaningless niceness, while “truth” without love is a brutal axe that chops people into pieces. Our Heavenly Father is the One who can teach us how to bring the two together so there is healing, justice and growth.
And if God shows you that you still need to communicate something, Let Him show you how to do it with your pointer finger in your pocket. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts others of sin (not us). By pointing out what you see or how it has made you feel from a motivation of wanting to restore the other person and the relationship, there’s a greater chance of healing and growth. And there’s room left for the Holy Spirit to do the deep work in the other person’s heart that brings real change.
We’re told in James 2:13, “There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” In other words, don’t underestimate the power of mercy. The attitude of judgment we pour onto another (no matter how much they deserve it) is the same we can expect from others when dealing with our own faults and sins. Mercy first, is the way to go. It’s also one way to stay out of the enemy’s camp.
In the end, after taking it to God, I never responded to the note that accused our ministry of not caring. I came to the conclusion that I had nothing to say. It gave us something to discuss among our staff and talk about how we can be more alert to the needs of others. I had to forgive for what I perceived to be an unjust accusation, while I hoped they could forgive what they saw as an offensive oversight. And as we prayed, we felt our Heavenly Father covering us. His mercy, after all, is what we need most.