Three fingers pointing back at you

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.

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MoodyMom
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MoodyMom

Oh yes! I was in an abusive marriage for over twenty years before i left. I went to my church for help. I got “biblical” counseling. After not being completely “healed” in 4-6 weeks of memorizing more verses and “just have a better mindset”, they sent me to another counselor, a pastor’s wife with an actual degree in “biblical” counseling.

She made me make out a list of all my sins — everything I must have done to others to make them “upset” at (abuse) me. Besides what i had done to my ex, she made me include everyone at church who shunned me, shamed me, told me to go back to the abuser — because, I was told, I was bitter against them.

I then had to bring the list to her. I had to sit in front of her, start praying, and I had to confess all the names of and sins i must have done against these people, including my abuser ex. I was told i must have sinned against them because they hurt me. I had to confess, before her, all my sins, with tears. I was told I had to cry to show her I was genuine in my repentance for all the pain THEY had caused me.

I did cry. I sobbed. But it was because I felt utterly helpless and hopeless. I felt that no one was ever going to care about MY pain. No one was ever going to stand up for me. I was broken because I was abandoned and betrayed. Again.

Afterwards, I asked what about what he’s done to me? Can I make a list? I wondered, would she finally listen to what’s been done to me? Would SOMEONE listen to or care about what’s been done to me? She seemed jarred. She allowed me make that list, and bring it next week.

I filled over a dozen pages of just the big things I could remember through my fog. I brought it.

She prayed to open our time, asked me about my week, and never mentioned that list. Towards the end, I brought it up. I showed it to her. She looked at the size of it. She didn’t read it and wouldn’t let me read it out loud like I had to with the other one. She told me that the fact that I even made this list showed how bitter i still was. She told me to “give it to God,” release my bitterness, and told me to burn it.

Jane
Guest

Oh, how I can relate to this… my brother so brutalized me emotionally (covertly as only he could do) and this after years of his put downs and cutting remarks. I thought that I had to keep inviting him to my house in order to be a good witness for Christ!!! I was so stuck and in such pain. I went to a Church based support group for help. They told me, “You must forgive!” And they shamed for for my anger. Ironically, I had been ordering myself to forgive and shaming myself for my anger for decades…. that’s the very reason I needed a support group to begin with!!!

Cindy Burrell
Guest

MoodyMom, I was horrified to read what you shared here. I’m so sorry you endured such a terrible burden and that kind of emotional and spiritual trauma from people who should have sought to see you, hear you and protect you. So wrong. I pray you are healing from those wounds and know that there are many others – like Rebecca – who genuinely care. Those foolish people who “counseled” you do not come close to representing or Savior’s life-giving truth or the tender heart of God.

Barbara Roberts
Guest

MoodyMom, thank you for describing in such detail what was done to you.

That counseling you were given was diabolical.

The counselor was NOT logical. She gave you her ‘permission’ to write that second list, (her haughtiness is apparent in even thinking she had that right and power over you) …. then she rebuked you for writing it!

Susan B
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Susan B

MoodyMom – I am so sorry for what you endured. I have a hard time assessing the enormous burden you carried, the hope dashed. In such circumstances, do we not always seek to be understood, with the hope of being set aright once again? The effort to subdue your own experience now labeled ‘bitterness’ — my heart grieves for your experience. I trust the LORD Himself is sustaining you and comforting you against such blatantly wrong counsel and pressure. Never, ever would Jesus have done that. Thank you for sharing, however, and reminding us that we cannot assume we know who can or will help us in time of need. May we all go forth with compassion and purpose to support women in these situations.

Kayla
Guest
Kayla

Yes! Thank you for posting this. If only more church leadership understood this.

Shawn
Guest
Shawn

Oh wow how I remember this saying. This was said/ preached so much that it became the chant we as kids used on each other when there was any kind of conflict. We learned it from leadership. It was a convenient form of grooming children to dismiss abusive situations (because under such influences, it was always more our fault than theirs). This was so deeply ingrained in us that “waking up” from the destructive teachings has taken ( is still taking) a lifetime to reverse. Sadly, too many were left wounded on the roadside.

Jane
Guest

Why is there such a tendency within the Church to over emphasize the soft side of love? When it comes to offenses, there seems to be the assumption among Christians that people are basically good, that they mean you no real harm. Often this is true, but sadly, sometimes it just isn’t, and believing that it is leaves you vulnerable. The question to ask yourself is this: is the injustice you are suffering a matter of the garden-variety self-centeredness that we all suffer from, or is there something more sinister going on? Then, respond accordingly depending on what/who you are dealing with. It’s just as important to address malicious offenses as it is to overlook unintentional ones.

Barbara Roberts
Guest

This ‘three fingers’ saying was said to me very early in my journey as a survivor-cum-advocate. I had left my abusive husband. With the support of the local Salvation Army women’s shelter, I had started a small group called Christians Responsding To Domestic Abuse. We ran a public forum. It was in Ballarat, town of about 100,000 people and about 70 people came to the forum. Great turn out!

At the forum, I announced that I would like someone to volunteer to write a Bible study for victims of domestic abuse. One woman volunteered. She drafted up a Bible study and sent me the draft text.

Her text included that horrible saying “When you point the finger at someone else, you have three fingers pointing back at you.”

My heart sank into my stomach. I felt gut punched. I knew I could not use her Bible Study.

I ended up writing and leading the Bible Study myself. About 10 women came. They were all victims of domestic abuse. Most of them were Christians. A few of them were not Christians but their abusers had used scriptures against them and they wanted to disentangle those scriptures that had been used as weapons against them.

That woman was a married woman in an evangelical church. She was clueless about the dynamics of domestic abuse, but she felt like was competent. Aarrrgh. There are so many people like her.

Jane
Guest

Barbara, I thought like this woman for decades… and I was a sincere Christian! It just seems so loving and humble to always look at your own sin and not at the sins of others. I changed when someone close to me repetitively, needlessly, and cruelly brutalized me emotionally… someone with whom I had been very “patient” with for many, many years prior.

I had to ask myself if the outrage and fury I felt were “of the flesh” or of God. I dug into what the Bible says about exposing evil, confrontation, and boundaries.

We should admit to (and take responsibility for) our own wrongs, but only when we really are wrong! And love does cover a multitude of sins, but not all of them! If God doesn’t wink at evil, why should we?

Anonymous
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Anonymous

This saying isn’t even true. It’s nonsense. It’s purpose is to silence and shame. It also sets children up for further victimization in life because it teaches silence is best and scolds a victim for complaining or telling of her mistreatment.

It’s tantamount to ‘snitches get stitches’ in a way. Same with the ‘don’t be a tattletale.’

As for the oft repeated ‘provocation’ mindset, that is also not true, either. Wicked people harm others because they are wicked. Victims didn’t cause it, provoke it, and no amount of introspection, self-blame, etc. will make a difference if a wicked person wishes to target and victimize you.

The ‘two sides to a story’ and ‘two sides to a coin’ also goes along with these others. But it reality, victims are blameless for the abuse, predation, harm, violence, violation, mistreatment, etc. they receive, hence the name ‘victims’ (innocent, the wronged party).

I see so much victim-blaming, victim-shaming, abuser-apologist, ‘just world fallacy’ nonsense being spouted as supposedly Chirstian (and thus implied as being ‘biblical’ but almost none of it is).

I loathe the ‘3 fingers’ saying. It’s not true. Usually is used to silence, dismiss, disregard, or victim-shame complainants, right along with the oft-touted ‘take the log out of your eye’.

Parents everywhere — Please do NOT tell your children this nonsense and if they hear it elsewhere, make sure to point out how it’s wrong. Otherwise it just helps keep victims silenced, which helps evildoers.

Jane
Guest

I agree… but “take the log out of your eye” is true. Before we can see clearly the wrongs of others, we do need to do appropriate soul-searching. And if we are guilty of wrongs, we need to take responsibility for our part …. BUT, as you say, SOMETIMES WE DON’T HAVE A PART! SOMETIMES WE ARE NOT TO BLAME IN ANY WAY!

The wicked need no reason to brutalize; they do it cuz it’s fun… they enjoy inflicting pain and get a kick our of watching you writhe! The rules of engagement are different when dealing with a bully… humility is not the appropriate stance. This is why it’s repugnant to push the idea of self examination on a victim!

Jane
Guest

I agree, and I love this definition of humility… seeing yourself as you are! (Not better than or less than others) I had not heard this before. Thanks, Jane

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

This is to both Rebecca and Jane, and I say that humility or basic decency recognizes that even perps are human beings. I’m not more valuable or higher or superior to my abusers, in as far as we are all human beings. There is a false humility preached though that says if one dares to oppose others’ abuse, criminality, etc. then they are claiming to be holier-than-thou, superior, and so forth. Such used to trip me up, but there is a humility is speaking, “but for the grace of God, there go I” and still speaking truth and telling about others’ predation.

I don’t think victims struggle with humility and struggle against seeing themselves as higher in intrinsic worth than another. I think victims wrestle with feelings of inferiority and worthlessness, which is inherently engendered by abuse, violence, violation, and victimization. Sure, there are probably exceptions, but I for one have serious problems with not feeling worthless (and thus super inferior).

I don’t know how many times my abuser told me I was garbage, trash, worthless, and the like. It is also demonstrated by abusers actions. And the abused, or at least myself, comes to believe that they deserve the abuse, they caused it, they forced the abuser to prey on them, to abuse them, to beat them, to harm them. They feel guilty, inferior, worthless, and not even human. And worse yet, responsible for having brought it all on themselves, caused it to happen, provoked it. Blamed, shamed, guilty, and worthless.

Love your blog, Rebecca!

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Thanks for the link, Rebecca, as I learn so much from your blog and the linked post is a good one. I’ve heard the “take the log out of your eye” comment said almost exclusively to shut me up, shame me for daring to speak of another’s sin, and dismiss my complaint out-of-hand.

It’s good to learn of the whole ‘are we all hypocrites?’ thing too, as I am imperfect and I have sinned and it’s constantly something I struggle with because I abhor my sins and hate that I committed them and wish I could go back and undo them, keep myself from sinning in the first place.

Victims tend to have the most tender consciences and are the most conscientious. At least that is true for me and I desperately tried to harden myself, make myself tough in hopes of being able to whether life in this wretched world and all it did was make me even more ashamed of my misguided attempts at survival. So, it’s good that on your blog there’s a post addressing hypocrisy.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

I’m with you, Jane. The “take the log out of your eye” is Scripture and as such, it is inerrant. It’s just that such has been wrongly applied to me by various people in situations involving one-sided victimization. I think it also ties into people’s mistaken beliefs that everyone is good, and that one just needs to look for the good in everyone. They don’t believe someone close (non-stranger) would do such evil without being provoked. Same applies to those in trusted positions.

I wonder if this abundant caution as to believing in others’ evildoing and believing victims, if and when they come forth, has a lot to do with the wrong/erroneous/detestable misbelief that others are good people and there’s more good people in the world than bad. Perhaps it is naivety with which so many of us struggle. I certainly do. Even after all that has been done to me by so many predators, I still have been groomed and indoctrinated into the insane ‘give others the benefit of the doubt’ premise and the lie that people are good, one can trust others not to prey on you, abuse power and positions of trust…

I love this line of yours, Jane, “This is why it’s repugnant to push the idea of self examination on a victim!” It’s refreshing to hear that from someone else, too. Because it furthers the vulnerability of victims to be regularly and near constantly directed to self-examination. Abusers do that as it is! The standard line of “look what you made me do” shares much similarity with the whole ‘three fingers’ line.

Julie
Guest
Julie

This is me…I have been married to a Pharisaical abuser for 34 years. He and a homeschooling church we went to for a long time had me believing all of those lies…’You must be doing something wrong or he wouldn’t do those things.’ ‘He’s not abusing you; he’s just got PTSD from his career (first responder) so you need to be more understanding of his pain and show more grace’ ‘If you say anything at all negative about him, you’re guilty of the sin of gossip. Your job is to make him look good at the city gates, after all.’ ‘Give him more time for himself, stop being so demanding, give him more sex, more kinky sex, don’t be vexing’, and on and on. I felt guilt, shame, loneliness, unworthiness, sinful, and hopeless. I never felt good about myself. I stopped trusting myself. He even convinced me that I wasn’t a good mother because I was modeling to our daughters what a vexing and contentious woman is, because there were times I tried to defend myself or I wanted to do something apart from him. I was told that I am bitter, unforgiving, angry, and not being a good example for my children and the younger wives and mothers at church ( insert Titus 2:3-5 or 1 Tim 2:11-15 here). The stories are endless, my kids (8 adult children who all adore me, so I must have done something right) tell me I need to write a book.
I slowly started coming out of my 30+ year fog through counseling, my daughters who are strong women, and a couple of friends who got me plugged into a several of online support groups. I started buying books, reading blogs, articles, watching videos and webinars, etc. The more I read, listened, and watched, the more I learned and the healing began. Over the last 18 months, I’ve been able to identify and name what I had been living with for decades…covert abuse at the hands of a narcissist. It was real and I am a survivor. My divorce will be final in a few weeks.
Rebecca, this post really hit home for me because I was told for a very long time, by many fellow Christians, that all sin is equal and my ‘sin in the marriage’ was no different from his and I was ALWAYS told to remove the proverbial plank from my own eye and never worry about the speck in his eye. Pile on more shame and guilt. And it worked for all that time because my manipulator knew/knows that all I ever wanted to do was please God. Snap! There were times I felt He was the only one in my corner. He had led me through the desert and brought me to a place of peace, healing, and financial restoration that I never thought possible 18 months ago. I had no idea how I was going to support our disabled son and myself, but God put things into place long before I ever considered leaving. So when stbx tries to tell me that my filing for divorce is a grievous sin, I remind myself that I’m a daughter of the King and He’s the One who guided me through.

Jane
Guest

Julie, once I came to know Christ, and fell in love with him, I believed that anything I heard at Church/Bible studies, etc. could be trusted and believed. But, sadly, it can be a minefield… trying to sort the lies from the truth.
When we are lied to by the world, that’s easy, we can brush it off and more on… but when the real Truth is twisted into a lie and then used to shame and produce false guilt, it’s an emotional nightmare because not to ‘obey’ feels like we are betraying Jesus. That’s a terrible kind of bondage… Satan must love it! My best to you as you sort the truth from the lies and courageously learn to follow it.
My best to you, Julie…

NGal
Guest
NGal

This kind of teachings are exactly what are used against bullied and abused people as spiritual warfare.
‘What have you done to provoke them..’
Dealing with that accusation once again as once more I am facing abuse and harassment from a neighbor – and the familiar voice tries to accuse me again, telling me ‘What is wrong with you, why cannot you just be normal / cool / liked by others like everyone else’…

It really takes courage and resolution to shut out that accusation and focus on God being my help and my defender.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

I hear you, NGal. I loathe the “what have you done to provoke them..” as well as the “well if you didn’t do this, then they would leave you alone” as though the wicked are merely provoked and reactionary, instead of evil, harassing, abusive, criminals who find pleasure in harming others.

Abuse and harassment from a neighbor is horrible! A person is stuck and cannot get away and the abuser neighbor knows it. Defend yourself to whatever degree you can. Probably not very much you can do. And it’s always a gamble to go the route of getting an anti-harassment order, as it’ll certainly escalate things, depending on the abuser and what they have to lose and whether the police (and you) will enforce every single violation of the anti-harassment order.

I’m glad you posted this, NGal, as I have a nightmare neighbor myself. It’s never-ending and so stressful and frightening.

I found comfort in reading posts from other victims of nightmare neighbors, who terrorized the neighborhood — or singled-out one neighbor — and it was a long ordeal for most all of them. If home owners, some were stuck as they couldn’t sell their home due to the nightmare neighbor’s antics. Renters cannot afford to move to another apartment. Just stuck.

God bless you, NGal.

NGal
Guest
NGal

Thank you, Anonymous.

Neighborhood bullying is one of the woets kind, because it happens between adults.. (not that the classroom bullying is any better) and you’d expect them to behave as responsible human beings.
It always comes as a surprise that people are entitled and arrogant enough to get their enjoyment from disturbing others, instead of focusing on their own life.

I have had to experience neighbor harassment so many times in my life, and this time, I decided to make a formal complaint to the head of the housing unit – they informed the property manager.
It is tough as the past year was physically tough (sick parents who needed assistance), and now, finally trying to focus on my life and get back on track, this.

People who have not been through abuse often say that ‘Just be happy, radiant and confident so you will repel abusers’… In most days, I do not radiate joy and happiness because I have been so tired, but I know that radiating joy and confidence also annoys the heck out of some people. ‘Who do you think you are’..
It is so wrong, having to pretend that I am a ‘gray rock’ – that certainly isn’t the way God intended for us to live.
Praying for His grace and protection on you as well!

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

I’m so glad you mentioned the “just be happy, radiant, and confident so you will repel abusers” advice, as I’ve been given that, too. Left me feeling responsible and at fault for bringing others’ abuse on me, as though if I had only been more confident, then I wouldn’t have been targeted. It’s shaming and blaming the victim.

I think predators are opportunists and then hone in on those close to them especially those in forced proximity to them, which makes them especially vulnerable.. After being stalked and harassed and victimized by this nightmare neighbor so severely that it dominated my existence, I found out he is a felon, stalked and terrorized others. Being an abuser, this is his standard thing. And the people who admonished me and claimed I could ward off victimization by doing x, y, or z, refuse to admit their error and still believe that if I only did this or that, then it would be resolved.

I think our society is full of victim-blaming and victim-shaming. One helpful thing I read was to shed, dismiss and disregard, bad advice as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it takes hard learned experience to decipher what is bad advice versus good advice.

I think ‘gray rock’ is the way to go. It’s so hard to do. And it’s so hard to keep one’s guard up because one wants others to be decent, respectable, and humane. I find such people are very rare and I seem not to learn very quickly, as I fall into the same trap of being too trusting or too polite or too pleasant and too nice. I think, no matter what, the kindhearted, the caring, and the gentle people are but walking prey for others in society.

I remember one guy talking about predatory sales tactics and how they’d hone in on a nice, decent person and be like ‘clubbing the baby seal to death’ in their predatory tactics and scamming. That’s what I feel like, a perpetual baby seal, being clubbed to death.

Thanks for your prayers, NGal. It’s really special.

NGal
Guest
NGal

Nice and decent people in general are targeted.. and then we are told we did bring it all on ourselves.
When we are not nice, friendly and immediately trusting, then we are berated for being unfriendly ..
It was the same at school: victims of bullies are told to go through all possible hoops to realize what they have done wrong to bring it upon themselves, whereas bullies themselves are never brought to justice, their behaviors are not questioned, their actions go unpunished.
It is the same with the sexual harrasment issue: women are told to go to therapy and what not, while their abusers and harassers are not expected to go through any self-evaluation, or re-eduaction. It is the victims who are told to change, to become better, to behave differently.
While bullies and abusers can just be whatever they want and go on disturbing other people…
I am so glad God is not like that, and those who claim to know Him should stand for justice too.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

You speak so much truth, NGal! This is exactly how it goes! Women cannot win (and not even ‘win’ but rather be free from perpetual blame/shame/fault-finding)! It’s a perpetual no-win setup.

If we are friendly, then we’ve supposedly brought abuse/victimization on ourselves by some predator. We should have been more cautious.

If we act more reserved or aloof, then we are criticized for not being kind, nice, joyful, friendly, and whatever else we are told we are supposed to be. We are shamed as being supposed Bs (rhymes with witches).

Childhood bullying. Workplace bullying. It’s the same setup. Bullies get rewarded and victims suffer and get blamed, punished, fired, or forced to quit.

Same with abusers. Wives are tormented, beaten, abused to the point of death or induced disability. Then abused women are blamed for not getting out sooner, as though it’s merely a simple choice and all abuse stops once she leaves (but it doesn’t and it usually gets worse). Abused women incur all the damages, suffer all the harms, and the injuries are cumulative. Her health will suffer now and in the future, due to the deleterious effects of abuse.

I see kids who were bullied in school and some never get over it, never recover, and even those who do, they are still wounded by it. As adults, it’s even worse, as the bullies and predators have had time to refine their tactics, learn new ways of preying on others, and how to pull it off without suffering any consequences.

I’ll stop commenting and filling up Rebecca’s post, but my goodness, NGal, it’s great to have read your comments. Blessings to you and Rebecca.

And I do think a person in Christ needs to stand for justice. Women are indoctrinated and socially conditioned to go along, to get along, to not make waves, but we have to fight against that conditioning and help others stand for justice or do it for ourselves (the hardest one, for myself). Jesus was a warrior when it came to those ripping off people at the Temple. Jesus took on the Pharisees. Jesus cared about the victims of oppression, the ‘weak’, the poor, the needy, the lame, the blind, the deaf.