I awake to a clatter at the back door. Erratic rapping on glass. I come down to investigate and find a scarlet cardinal sitting on the railing, then flying beak first into the all-glass door. A flutter and crash, regrouping on the railing, head cocking this way and that, then attacking the glass again, and again.
The morning sun had created a perfect looking glass in our back door, and the cardinal was attacking his own reflection. It didn’t help to chase him away. He just came back for more self-abuse. There were skid marks on the glass, saliva smeared and flecked with down.
At first glance this looks like a typically bird-brained thing to do, until you realize that it’s a very human thing to do. In our attempts to lash out at others, we are attacking ourselves. We know about autoimmune diseases, where the body’s natural defenses mistake healthy tissue for invading destructors, and thus self attacks self. The same phenomenon happens spiritually or psychically. Our worrying-anxious-insecure self sees threats that are actually projections of our own shadow—all the dark, unexamined, fearful stuff that teems just below everyday consciousness. It sees the menace and flies face-first into battle.
Mostly for me this happens when I am alone and talking to myself, having full-on arguments with people who are nowhere in sight. “As if you didn’t know!” “A lot of nerve you have!” “Hung me out to dry!” And so on. My heart rate jumps, my blood pressure spikes, my breathing turns shallow. That assault on my own body comes not from an enemy out there, but from me.
This tendency to turn on ourselves is an old, old problem.
Plenty of people love John 3:16. I love John 3:17. “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Why did the Son not come to condemn us? Because he knew we needed no help in the condemnation department: we were not just pretty good at condemning ourselves—we were really, really good at it.
Think for a moment about all the people who come under your condemnation. These are the ones who regularly come up in those soliloquies of seethe. Every time you go after them, even silently in your mind, you are going after yourself. This is why Jesus kept saying, Judge not. He knew every time you pass judgment on someone, the sentence and penalty is charged to you.