“We should be merciful to one another in seeking never to look at the worst side of a brother’s character. Oh, how quick some are to spy out other people’s faults! They hear that Mr. So-and-so is very useful in the church, and they say, ‘Yes, he is, but he has a very curious way of going to work, has he not? And he is so eccentric.’ Well, did you ever know a good man who was very successful, who was not a little eccentric? . . .
Do you go out when the sun is shining brightly and say, ‘Yes, this sun is a very good illuminator, but I remark that it has spots’? If you do, you had better keep your remark to yourself, for it gives more light than you do, whatever spots you may have or may not have. And many excellent persons in the world have spots, but yet they do good service to God and to their age.
So let us not always be the spot-finders, but let us look at the bright side of the brother’s character rather than the dark one, and feel that we rise in repute when other Christians rise in repute, and that, as they have honor through their holiness, our Lord has the glory of it, and we share in some of the comfort of it.”
This is something that constantly convicts my heart. This is also something that I’m terribly guilty of committing. It’s no mystery – the root of this issue is pride. If we can’t boast in our own “achievements”, then the next best option we have is to tear down those around us. How many conversations are there going on about a person (who obviously is never present during such moments) that start off with “you know what? he/she is pretty great…” before quickly degenerating when the inevitable “But I heard this…” arrives. The bottom line is this: Insecure and prideful, we are a generation of caveats.
Though this is the way things are, they don’t need to stay that way. The next time we feel compelled to “bring someone down to size”, we should follow up by asking ourselves, “what do I need to work on?”. Another way to transform the way we think and comment on others is by looking for evidences of grace. Look for the ways in which God has worked or is working in and/or through them. If you find it hard to notice evidences of grace in others, take that as a cue to talk to and pray for them! Here is C.J. Mahaney on what it means to look for evidences of grace in people (though the quote refers to Christians, the spirit of this exercise is just as applicable to non-Christians):
Most people are more aware of the absence of God than the presence of God. Most people are more aware of the presence of sin than evidences of grace. […] So, informed by (Apostle) Paul’s leadership I want to interact with everybody by identifying an evidence of grace, because if they are Christian I know God is at work in their lives. What a joy it is to discern where and how God is at work, draw people’s attention to it, and celebrate God’s grace in their lives! The fact that we get to do this—how cool is this?
So when I look at all the vitriol surrounding people, I find myself, more often than not, scratching my head. It’s obvious to point out there’s no place in society for senseless slander, as opposed to constructive criticism. However, what’s not obvious is the fact that within constructive criticism, there is a deeper dynamic to be considered: the state of the heart. Are constructive criticisms given in love and for the greater good? Or are they merely a convenient vehicle through which one quietly expresses his personal vendettas against someone?
For me, two “famous” names that come to mind are Jason Russell (one of the founders of Invisible Children) and Mark Driscoll (Pastor of Mars Hill Church). And in light of what I’ve written so far, I think it’s necessary for all of us to discern what the line is between slander v. constructive criticism/necessary rebuke. Undoubtedly, both men have made mistakes and will forever have critics. However, for us to assume the worst about them and/or to dismiss whatever they undertake is to be profoundly short-sighted about and ungrateful for the loving forgiveness God has graciously poured on us and the works He has done in and through us.
We are all fundamentally flawed and sinful. We were born that way, we live that way, and we’ll die that way. But guess what? God works through and is glorified by flawed people all the time! He uses the weak to lead the strong, and He qualifies the chosen rather than choosing the ‘qualified’. From Jonathan Edwards (slave-owner) to King David (adulterer, murderer) to Rehab (prostitute), God has done some amazing things through sinful people all through history. Not only that, but He is working in and through each and every one of us right now!
St. Augustine, who struggled mightily with lust and adultery himself, once wrote/said, “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity”. In today’s world of post-modernism, relativism, and the new “tolerance”, our society is too often divided over non-essentials. Let us not be the spot-finders, missing the forest for the trees as we harp on personal differences, but let us unite in the essentials with love and respect, rejoicing in the truth that a perfect God is working in all of us, despite all our imperfections.