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Specks and Logs A matter of perspective.



2885 words


When other people are in the wrong, we should ignore it,

For it is wrong for us to find fault.

By getting rid of this habit of fault-finding

We cut off a source of defilement.

[Buddhist, Sutra of Hui Neng 2]


Confucius said, "The gentleman calls attention to the good points in others; he does not call attention to their defects. The small man does just the reverse of this." {Analects 12.16}


The Jewish Talmud says, “Judge not thy neighbor until thou hast stood in his place.”  [Talmud, Mishnah, Abot 2.5 a saying of Hillel]


In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, Jesus said,

1  "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.

2  For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

3  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?

4  Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is 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 neighbor's eye.




Frivolous Lawsuits

A man sued a fast food company after he had a wreck while drinking one of their milkshakes. He claimed the fast food company knew he would drink the beverage while driving and the company failed to put a label on the food warning against eating and driving.

A neighbor helped a woman carry some burglar-proof security bars for her house. The woman dropped the bars, injuring her foot. She sued the neighbor who had helped her.

A man is suing a Las Vegas casino. He says they allowed him to get drunk and lose one million dollars. Then he says they allowed him to borrow more than $100,000. He wants them to give his money back, forgive his debt and give him some money for pain and suffering..

Outraged by a referee’s call, several Washington Redskins fans filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding it be overturned.

The University of Michigan was sued for $853,000 by a disgruntled student who received an F in German.


Put them down lift me up

All of these lawsuits reflect our culture of blame, our human tendency to say, not my fault, your fault.  We are supposed to love, but sometimes we love to criticize and put down other people.  

We judge others for obvious reasons. If I can put down someone else, that makes me look all the better, so the farther down I can push them the higher I make myself.

This is why the older generation puts down the younger gener

ation.  According to the older generation, things are always worse now than when they were younger, and the younger generation is not as smart or as moral or as well educated or whatever.  But the younger generation always grows up and does just fine.  And they in turn put down the generation following them.  Why do we do this?  Because if the next generation is pond scum, that makes me and my generation look better

Thus, judging others makes me feel better about myself.  If we have a problem with sin in our own lives, it takes a little pressure off to point the finger at others. It makes us seem not so bad after all.

But we know we are not supposed to criticize, so we devise all sorts of ways to disguise our criticism.  Our judging can even take the form of an expression of concern or care for others.  We can pray for them and criticize them all in the same breath. This is a way of venting a harsh, carping, loveless spirit.


No time for Faultfinding

Jesus says, Stop it.  In verse 3 Jesus said, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?"

 Jesus may have said this with a smile.  His audience may have laughed at this absurd image.  We have this guy with a telephone pole sticking out of his eye.  We imagine him stumbling over to his brother and reaching out with a hand clumsily trying to claw this microscopic speck out of his brother’s eye.  What Jesus is saying is: With the faults you have, why in the world would you be worried about the faults someone else has. 

Mahatma Gandhi said:

“It is not for us to find fault with anyone else and sit in judgment over him. We should be exhausted judging ourselves only, and so long as we notice a single fault in ourselves and wish our relations and friends not to forsake us in spite of such fault, we have no right to poke our nose into other people’s conduct. If in spite of ourselves we notice another’s fault, we should ask him himself if we have the power and think it proper to do so, but we have no right to ask anybody else.”

[All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi as Told in His Own Words compiled and edited by Krishna Kripalani, Chapter V, Self-Discipline,]

Gandhi makes a good point.  We have so many faults ourselves that we do not have time to judge others; we have enough to do to take care of ourselves.  God has given us the task of improving our own life and that requires all our attention, all our will-power and all our energy.  If we allow ourselves to be distracted by efforts to remedy the faults of others, we are wasting time and energy.

I realize that most of us do not plough fields, but consider this image: Suppose we are all out in a huge field, and we all have tractors and plows and we are lined up and we are to plough our way across the field.  Each of us has one task—to plow a straight furrow.  But if I am looking over there to see if he is ploughing right, and looking over here to see if she is ploughing right, then one thing is probably for sure—the one who is not ploughing a straight furrow is me.  I am wandering all over the place because I am tending to everyone else’s business.  I need to concentrate on straightening out my own furrow. 

In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus was in the house of Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman anointed his feet, Simon said, "This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39).   Thus he criticized the woman and Jesus.  But Jesus turned Simon’s criticisms upside down by pointing out that the woman had done what Simon was supposed to do.  She had acted as host.  Simon was so busy criticizing that he had forgotten his duties as the host of his own house.  That is the way it is with a critical attitude.  We get so locked into our criticisms that we wind up not doing what we ought to be doing.



And the faultfinder can never see her faults—because the faultfinder never gives herself the same scrutiny with which she looks at others.  She may disagree with that.  She may say, "I do look at myself. I know I’m not perfect! But at least I’m not as bad as they are." But the trouble is that she uses rose-colored glasses on her own faults, and then uses a microscope on the faults of others. Consequently, she may have glaring faults that are seen by everyone but herself, and her most glaring fault is her hyper-critical spirit.

It is like the parable in Luke 18 where a Pharisee goes to the temple to pray. The Pharisee looks through his microscope at a tax collecdtor and says, "I am glad I’m not like that scumbag over there." And then he looks through his rose colored glasses at himself and says, "Lord, you are just so blessed to have me on your side."

This is what we might call ordinary human thinking: my dirt is never as dirty as your dirt, my sin is never as sinful as your sin.  Jesus demands that we reverse this usual way of thinking, that we become blind to the failings of others and acutely aware of our own failings.

According to an old story, there was a woman, let us just call her Jane Smith, who lived across an alley from another woman.  Jane could easily see into her neighbor’s apartment.  She could see her as she sewed and read each afternoon.  After several months, Jane Smith noticed that the figure in the window across the alley was becoming dim and indistinct.  Jane Smith said to herself, “Why doesn’t that woman wash her windows.”

One sunny day Jane Smith decided to do some housecleaning, including washing her own windows. Later that day, she sat down to rest by the window. To her amazement, she could clearly and distinctly see her neighbor sitting by her window.  Jane said to herself, "Well, finally she washed her windows!"

Even with clean windows, our Jane Smith was still blind.  Faultfinders are usually that clueless; and realize that we are not talking about one or two people.  This is the way most people think.  As I noted earlier, we live in a culture of blame - everybody blames somebody else for something.  There is nothing new about this.  It is as old as the Garden of Eden.  When God said to Adam, Why did you eat the forbidden fruit?  Adam blamed Eve.  “She made me do it.”  Obviously Adam had some windows that needed washing.

One evening several college students spread limburger cheese on the upper lip of a sleeping fraternity brother. Upon awakening the young man sniffed, looked around, and said, “This room stinks!” He then walked into the hall and said, “This hall stinks!” Leaving the dormitory, he exclaimed, “The whole world stinks!”  That is always the fault of faultfinders, they have this smell on their upper lip and they say, “The whole world stinks.”

In reply to this way of thinking, Thomas A Kempis (C. 1380-1471) says, "What difference does it make to you what someone else becomes, or says, or does? You do not need to answer for others, only for yourself."


We Lack God Knowledge

And Jesus says the thing we need to do about ourselves is to renounce the presumptuous ambition to be God—by setting ourselves up as judges.  That is what drives an overly critical attitude: a belief that I can see as God sees. I can see your motives. I can see the way you are thinking. I know all the things that have led you to this point in your life.  But, of course, we do not know.

Human judgment is based on limited information and hence cannot be accurate. The Indians had their way of saying this: "Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins."  At least that is a saying that is attributed to Indians, I have never seen a source for that quote and there is some reason to believe that no Indian ever said it.  Nevertheless, it is still a good message.  We do not know what other people are going through.  Perhaps if we did, instead of condemning them, we might marvel that they are as good as they are.

A newspaper reporter from a northern newspaper was once searching for a story about the laziness that supposedly existed throughout the South, when he saw a man out in a cornfield, sitting in a chair and hoeing his weeds. This he decided, was the ultimate in laziness.  He rushed back to his car to get his camera for a photograph.  But when he came back and began to focus his camera, he saw something different.  He saw that the pants legs on the farmer hung down loose—that the man had no legs.  So what seemed to be an article on laziness turned into an article on human courage and determination.

That little story shows the limits of human judgment.  I Samuel 16:7 says, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."  That is why I do not sit in judgment on someone else’s motives, because I do not know what their motives are, only the Lord knows.


Get the Log Out

In John 8, Jesus is confronted by a mob pushing before it a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. Understand that she was caught in the very act, and there was no doubt as to her guilt.  The scribes and Pharisees reminded Jesus that the law of Moses demanded that the woman should be stoned to death.  We can almost see the mob picking up rocks just waiting for Jesus to give the word.  But the gospel says that Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dust.  Then, as they continued to badger him about the woman, he said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."   And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.  We wonder what he was writing.  Whatever it was, it had an effect.  The mob dispersed leaving Jesus alone wih the woman.  Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"  She replied, "No one,” and Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."

Some scholars think that what Jesus was writing in the dust were the names of men in the mob who had also had sexual relations with the woman.  What Jesus did was to change the perspective.  The mob wanted to focus on her sin.  Jesus forced them to consider their own sin.   He was not, in any sense, trying to justify the woman’s behavior, but he knew that the first thing he had to do was to get that log out of the mob’s eye.

Our problem is to get the log out of our eye.  For example, suppose that you have just gone on a diet. You trashed all the junk food, bought whole wheat, fat free, and sugar free. You go to your favorite restaurant and order a garden salad with dressing on the side so that you can dip the tip of your fork in the dressing every other bite.  You look over at the table next to you and watch with smugness and condemnation as that guy chows down on a cheeseburger covered with grilled onions and slathered with mayonnaise.  “How can he do that to his body?” you ask yourself, forgetting that you were doing the same think yesterday, and perhaps will be doing the same thing tomorrow.  I am sorry to say that I have been there and done that.

For some reason, it is easy to jump to negative conclusions about people.  For example, In 1884 a young man died, and after the funeral his grieving parents decided to establish a memorial to him. They met with Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University. Eliot received the modest looking couple into his office.  They did not look like money, so he immediately made up his mind about them.  After they expressed their desire to fund a memorial, Eliot impatiently said, “Perhaps you have in mind a scholarship.”

We are thinking of something more substantial than that… perhaps a building.” The woman replied.  In a patronizing tone, Eliot brushed aside the idea as being too expensive, and the couple departed.

Then the next year, Eliot learned that this plain pair had gone elsewhere and established a university with $26 million memorial gift.  The original name of that university was Leland Stanford Junior University, better known today as Stanford.  Perhaps Charles Eliot, president of Harvard, learned something from that about not jumping to conclusions about people.


Let me conclude then with this story: Edgar Dunlap was an attorney who, years ago, served on the Board of Education in Gainesville, Georgia.  While touring an elementary school one day, he saw a boy carving his initials on a desk.  Dunlap shouted for the boy to stop. “What’s the matter with you kids today?  When I was in school, none of the boys dared to deface public property like this!” A few days later the chastised boy stumbled upon an old desk in the school basement.  Carved on the top of the desk was the date and six names.  The first name on the list was Ed Dunlap. (The boy showed it to Ed Dunlap) The old attorney took the desk top with him and mounted it on his office wall. He said, “I keep that there to remind me to be more tolerant about the things kids do.”[].  Ed Dunlap learned about not judging and not criticizing.  Let us apply the same lesson to our hearts and souls.  Amen.



If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last modified  11/29/04