Balm or Blame

Do you remember Hank? In our September 14 post, he gave us a glimpse of life under parole—released from incarceration, yet remaining under the watchful eye of the penal system. He is grateful for his new season of life; he uses it daily “to contribute to a broken society that [I] helped break.” While Hank views his parole experience as “a positive one” overall, it is not without challenges, for there is, in his words, an implied, “We’ll let you out, but . . . we’re going to remind you of what you’ve done and who you are.” Now parole officers have the difficult job of protecting society while navigating offenders back into it, and those who do it well deserve our gratitude. Yet Hank’s experience illustrates the human tendency to blame and criticize others for their moral frailties, even though we struggle mightily with our own. In our sin nature, we scorn theirs. There must be a better way.

Jesus once asked a gathered crowd, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”1 We all sin, then sin again in judging others, and in doing so, we hold them to a standard we, through our flesh, cannot attain. The apostle Paul speaks for us all: “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”2 Even we who are born into Christ struggle against our sin nature, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other . . .”3 We cannot live a godly life by our own power, nor can anyone else, so why would we heap accusations and judgments upon the already battle-scarred among us? They need balm, not blame.

James wrote, “Don’t speak evil against each other . . . If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law [of love].”4 Instead, life in Christ looks more like this: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”5 Then do we ignore sin? No, not at all. Sin is serious. But “if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”6 Apply balm, not blame. (It’ll feel better to you, too.)

Father, You have compassion on us, remembering that “we are dust.”7 May we be so merciful, bearing hope, not hurt, and balm, not blame. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Matthew 7:3
2 Romans 7:18
3 Galatians 5:17
4 James 4:11 NLT
5 Colossians 3:13-15
6 Galatians 6:1
7 Psalm 103:13-14


When Others Speak of Us

Early in my career, I represented my employer to agents who sold insurance for our company in Northcentral Ohio cities and towns. Most of them were a generation older than me, many in business before I was born. As business owners, they valued their autonomy and exercised their authority; I could attempt to influence their actions through persuasion, but could command nothing. Leaving an agent’s office one day after a particularly difficult discussion, I thought to myself, “I can do this job with thin skin [overly sensitive to criticism] or I can do it with thicker skin. My experience under one approach will be far different than under the other.” As I walked to my car that day, I made a life-decision not to be thin-skinned—no longer would I subject my sense of wellbeing to the whim of others. I have never regretted it.

Most of us are easily influenced by what others think of us, and what they say to us or about us can be troubling—it can “get into our head.” Such was the case with David. Fleeing his own son, Absalom, and hearing what the people were saying about it, David raised the matter before the Almighty, “Many are saying of my soul, ‘There is no salvation for him in God.’”1 Public opinion weighed on Israel’s king, just as the thoughts and words of others weigh on us today. Then how we respond is crucial, for the proverbial, perilous ditches border both sides of the path. Do we retreat into isolation, disengaging from society—our silenced views and opinions in tow—and losing all effectiveness? Do we instead capitulate to critics, compromising our convictions to gain the conditional applause of others? Jesus warns us against such an exchange—truth for acceptance: “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”2

After laying his complaint before God, David confessed with his mouth what he knew in his heart to be true: “But You, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head.”3 He chose neither ditch, but walked the road that crested between them. Worldly ways will always tempt us to worldly responses, but wisdom is found in God. He is the One who defines us. He is the One who declares our worth. It is He who accepts us in Christ and sustains us all the days of our life. Our confidence is in Him. We are loved. We are free.

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. — Proverbs 29:25

Father, thank You for Your faithfulness. When I am tempted to react to rejection of any kind, draw my thoughts and heart to You, for You sustain me always. I know this full well. In Christ I pray. Amen.

1 Psalm 3:2 NASB
2 Luke 6:26 ESV
3 Psalm 3:3 NASB