We Don’t See The Clean, Just The Dirt

by Graham Pockett

Scripture quoted is from the NIV Bible, not because it is ‘best’ but because it is in modern English. If in doubt, please read the quotations in various translations. You might like to read Why I Quote The NIV Bible.

Most people tend to judge a person on how bad they are – on the negative aspects of their character and not on the positive. We don't focus on their "clean", we focus on their "dirt".

A newspaper publisher which only prints good news does not stay in business long (as can be testified by the number of times it has been tried). Let's face it, we thrive on the dirt in other people's lives – the shame of having Uncle Bob in prison, the problems that people expose in reality TV talk shows (Dr Phil, Oprah, Montel, Springer, et al), the horror photographs of car wrecks, etc.

We get an emotional high from feeding on other people's misery – the lower they are emotionally, the higher we feel. We often obtain our feeling of self worth from feeding on the misery and trauma in other people's lives.

We eagerly read the juiciest tit bits of news, we listen to all the celebrity gossip, we get angry over yet another priest being accused of child molestation, another nice old grandmother who has been bludgeoned to death in a home invasion – we get emotional highs from a feeling of righteous indignation.

In general, we are quick to judge, yet slow to forgive.

In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus says:

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." [NIV]

And in Luke 6:37, He says:

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." [NIV]

For every "feel good" story on the TV news there are a dozen presented to shock or enthrall – but all are designed to extract from us an emotional reaction. The currency of TV news is "reaction". No reaction equals no news.

But the biggest potentially dangerous reports are those that encourage us to make a judgement, a judgement which is based entirely on the story presentation. We are given no balance, just a one-sided viewpoint which, through lack of balanced information, we are forced to accept.

The biggest problem with judging other people is that we never have all the information. We make snap judgments on what someone has done, not on why they did it. We focus on the effect and ignore the cause.

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
[1 Samuel 16:7 NIV]

We watch a 30-second summation on the TV news about a huge court case and make up our mind about the case based on that summation, a summation that could be slanted in any number of ways depending on the integrity, journalistic expertise, and bias of the reporter or the TV network presenting the news story.

We did not listen to the weeks or months of evidence, to the various arguments for and against certain aspects of the case, we simply make our own judgement based on someone else's viewpoint. The news is funneled to us through a filter, and the information we make our judgements on is often presented for emotional impact, not fact.

As Christians we should be above that – we should be heeding the directions of our Lord, Jesus, who said that we should not judge others. Maybe if we could get inside someone's mind, understand their motivation, where they came from, any mental illness they might suffer, we might, just might, have some grounds in which to judge someone. Unfortunately we never really get an opportunity to walk a mile in someone else's shoes.

In 1 Samuel 16:7 it says:

"The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." [NIV]

Imagine if you were raised by a father who was a career burglar, who taught you how to steal at eight years of age, who taught you that the law does not apply to you because "the rich can afford it" and "they'll just claim it off their insurance company, and probably add a little bit more". What attitude would you have? If you were constantly taught these things from a very young age they would be ingrained into you, and thieving would be as natural to you as eating. Whose fault is it when you are jailed for theft?

And what do you learn in jail? To be a good citizen? Alas, no. You are taught to be selfish, to put your own needs, your own health, happiness and safety, above everybody else's. Prison is a "me first" environment. You are not taught to be a responsible citizen, but to place yourself above everyone else – the exact opposite to what is required for someone to live successfully in a community. Generally, criminals are social misfits, and prison enhances that "social outcast" feeling.

What do you do with a person like this? Do you try to help them or do you simply lock them up and throw away the key?

Of course, we should judge the actions of others, specially if it impacts on us or our families. A lion should not be judged for being a lion – it is his nature to stalk and kill for his food – but that does not mean we have to invite a lion home for dinner (specially when we might be on the menu!). It is the lion's nature that causes us to protect ourselves from him.

“The theory of forgiveness is wonderful – until we are faced with an horrific situation that affects us or our families.”

The other part of Luke 6:37 says: "Forgive, and you will be forgiven". Do we forgive those who have sinned against us, or do we harbor feelings of unforgiveness? What would happen if your wife or child was brutally raped? Would you forgive the rapist? Could you forgive the rapist? Should you forgive the rapist?

More importantly, where do you stand if, say, that rapist serves his time in prison, finds the Lord, and becomes born again as a new creation in Christ? Do you wipe his slate clean, as God does, or do you still brand that person as a rapist and hate him for what he did to your wife or child?

The theory of forgiveness is wonderful – until we are faced with an horrific situation that affects us or our families. Could you move from theory into practice. Should you move from theory into practice?

Remember, Jesus said "Forgive, and you will be forgiven". If you cannot forgive others who sin against you then how can God forgive you when you sin against Him? (When you sin against other people you are also sinning against God too!)

A recent example of forgiveness was expressed when the Amish community forgave Charles Carl Roberts IV for killing five young schoolgirls, and injuring another five, at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish community of Nickel Mines in Pennsylvania, USA, on October 2, 2006.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer (October 1, 2007), the "Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts' widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts' sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him". The same source reports that about 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts' funeral.

Wikipedia reports that: "Some commentators criticized the swift and complete forgiveness with which the Amish responded, arguing that forgiveness is inappropriate when no remorse has been expressed, and that such an attitude runs the risk of denying the existence of evil..." (For more information about this crime, read the Amish school shooting Wikipedia article.)

Is remorse necessary so that someone who sins against you can be forgiven? The answer is an emphatic "no". Forgiveness is about the victim not the perpetrator. In fact, forgiveness is an act of the head, not of the heart. You must forgive someone even if you don't like them or what they did.

“Forgiveness ... is God's way of healing that sin-caused wound so that its scar does not dominate that person's life.”

Forgiveness does not imply acceptance of the sin, because the sin is still wrong whether or not the perpetrator has been forgiven. Forgiveness is about the person sinned against, it is God's way of healing that sin-caused wound so that its scar does not dominate that person's life.

When we meet people, specially when we get to know a new group of people, or we move into a new neighborhood, we must be careful that we see only the clean in other people's lives and we do not look for their dirt. Everybody has some dirt in their lives but we must look beyond that dirt to see the clean underneath.

How we perceive others has a huge bearing on how they perceive themselves. Tell a child that he or she is "stupid" and it takes a lot of praise to erase that impression and restore that child's self respect.

People tend to live according to the way they are treated. If you assume that someone is "bad" it will become apparent to that person and they will tend to live down to that assumption. If you assume that someone is "good" then they will tend to live up to that assumption. To a large degree, our behavior reflects how we are treated. If you treat someone like a rabid dog, don't complain when you get bitten...

We see what we look for. If we look for dirt then we will find dirt, but if we look for clean we might just surprised at what we find – even in the worst character, the most vile offender. Ask anyone who works in Prison Ministry.

In John 8:15 Jesus accused us of judging by human standards, and those standards are inevitably wrong because we cannot know the heart of the person whom we are judging. We shouldn't be looking for the dirt in someone's life.

As Jesus said in John 8:7...

"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone..." [NIV]

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Graham’s Christian writing:
"Graham Pockett doesn't mince any words, but he writes with a kind heart. If you have questions about such things as "once saved, always saved", or why so many different ideas can come from the same scripture, or how much what we see and do affects us as spiritual beings, you'll find much to think about here."  from This Christian Life
Graham Pockett
Download these articles:
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  • Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? – what did Jesus really look like?
  • The Truth Will Set You Free! – the Holy Tarantula???
  • Growing the Seed of Faith – so it doesn't wither and die
  • We Don't See The Clean, Just The Dirt – judgement and forgiveness
  • Why I Quote The NIV Bible – is it an heretical Bible?
  • "Omissions" from the NIV Bible – a look at 17 missing verses
  • Do You Believe In Miracles? – you do when they happen to you!
  • “Why Didn’t God Answer My Prayer For A Miracle?” – my response
  • Christian Concepts – the cavern of life  (an analogy)
  • Christian Concepts – the three crosses  (an analogy)
  • Christian Concepts – we are what we eat
  • Christian Concepts – when are we saved?  (an analogy)
  • Christian Concepts – when we are saved, part 1  ...part 2

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    Last Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2019