Last Sunday I preached on Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 about the log and the speck. Jesus says that we often try to point out the sins of others when we don’t see our own sins clearly.
Recently someone reminded me about what social psychologists call “Fundamental Attribution Error.” In many ways, this is a modern description of the same reality that Jesus talks about in Matthew 7. The simple version goes like this:
When I do something bad, I attribute it to my circumstances. When you do something bad, I attribute it to your character.
We do this all the time.
If I fail to get certain things done, it’s because I am overwhelmed and exhausted. If you fail to get certain things done, it’s because you are lazy and irresponsible. If I say something sharp, it’s because I had a tough day. If you say something sharp, it’s because you are bitter. If I cut someone off while driving, it’s because something distracted me. If you cut someone off while driving, it’s because you are reckless.
On and on it goes.
How do we break free from this pattern? We need God’s help to see ourselves more clearly. Thankfully, God has given us resources that will help us do that. He has given us “the means of grace” (the Word, sacraments, and prayer as ways he brings his grace into our lives). He has also given us each other, other people in the body of Christ who know us and can say things we need to hear with love, humility, and gentleness. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6).
Finally, be suspicious of your own goodness. We all tend to overestimate the strength of our character. It could be, as Jesus said in Matthew 7, that you see the speck in someone else’s eye but you are missing the logjam in your own.