It’s common for preachers and Christian writers to tell us, “When you listen to this sin being described, don’t think about anybody else; just think about yourself and search your own soul.”
Many Christians, well-meaning and good-hearted, very much take that admonition to heart and do their best never to apply any Scriptural finger-pointing to anyone around them.
That’s because frankly it’s a little scary and perhaps condemning, to think, “When you point the finger at someone else, you have three fingers pointing back at you.”
Yet sometimes it’s extremely important to think about someone else when we hear descriptions of sin, even if we do so in fear and trembling. Understanding the people in our lives is part of how we can accomplish full healing and even full maturity.
The importance of sometimes examining others
Don Hennessy, in How He Gets into Her Head: The Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser, says that when he works with a client, he wants to explore with her the reasons for and the effects of relationship abuse and violence. “This is best achieved by drawing her attention to the thinking and the mindset of her abuser.”
Hennessy goes on to say, “This changes the focus of the woman’s analysis away from self-examination.”
But isn’t that exclusive self-examination what we’re told to do in the Christian church, because we’re the only sinner we need to think about, and we are the worst sinner we know?
As a righteous change from self-examination
But Hennessy continues, “This focus of self-examination has been instigated and orchestrated by the offender right from the beginning of the relationship.”
But isn’t self-examination Scriptural? Isn’t it appropriate to look at our own sin?
I believe it’s so crucial to be humbly open to the Holy Spirit’s words about any way we’ve turned away from God (through a nudging of the Spirit or through a word from a fellow believer) that our repentance (“coming to our senses” to turn back to God) should be ongoing all the time.
But this is quite different from the focus of self-examination to try to find your sin when you’re in relationship with a Pharisaical abuser.
The former can be a joyful undertaking (“I’m turning back to You, Lord”) while the latter is almost invariably agonizing and excruciating. (The latter involves a myriad of abusive teachings such as, “You must not talk about [your abuser] lest you be gossiping,” and “You’re obviously bitter,” and “You haven’t submitted enough,” and “Because you won’t reconcile, that means you haven’t forgiven.”)
Many who have come out of abusive “Christian” environments were regularly told that any abuse that occurred was all their fault and they needed to search their hearts to figure out what they was doing wrong to cause it. (If you fit that description, I’d like to hear your story in the comments.)
Even after a person is out of the direct abuse, the mindset of self-focus (“three fingers back at you”) to the point of self-condemnation (“I’m the worst sinner I know”) can effectively keep her crushed and unable to even understand what it was she was dealing with.
Focusing attention on the abuser while still living in a stance of repentance
But in spite of the “three fingers back at you” maxim, I believe it’s like Jesus to focus attention on the thinking and mindset of abusers, “the wicked,” as they’re called in the Scriptures. David spent quite a bit of time thinking about them and describing them, in Scriptures such as Psalm 7, Psalm 27, Psalm 31, Psalm 34, Psalm 37, Psalm 109, and many, many others.
Have you noticed that David didn’t count himself as one of the wicked? He counted himself among “the righteous,” whom he described in a number of his writings such as Psalm 1:6, Psalm 5:12, and Psalm 26:1 (and many others).
Apparently David, and those who followed in his footsteps, weren’t too worried about “three fingers back at them” when they described the wicked.
Here’s the Joy for the people of God. In Jesus Christ it’s possible to stand in a readiness to turn back to Him constantly, many times a day (“repentance”) and still be able to point a finger at the wicked and say, “These are the ones who must be removed from the church of Jesus Christ.”
It is not hypocritical for us to do so. In fact, it’s one of the best ways we can serve the cause of Christ.