At noon each Monday, I go to the church sanctuary and spend an hour before the cross in prayer. I know, I know, I’m exceedingly holy. This week I had expected to spend the hour asking God to bless a specific family member, but, instead, God wanted to talk about character—mine, mostly.
Kneeling before the cross is the perfect spot for the Holy Spirit to work on one’s character. Staring at the cross is sufficient for one to feel woefully inadequate; borderline pathetic. Jesus raises the bar that high. The Lord has ramped-up His focus on specific areas of my character for nearly a half-year through the writing of Francis de Sales. It’s tempting to think God’s goal is to humiliate by pulling the rug of self-esteem out from under me, but He’s more like a coach training me to be better. He’s been placing me in circumstances and conversations where I can see and hear the Christlikeness in others. I’ve been listening more, and talking less because their greater measure of Christlikeness silences me.
I’ve known for decades that I’ve dragged my Bostonian sarcasm along with us in our move to the Pacific Northwest—I packed it in with my theology books. Sarcasm is the mother tongue of Bostonians. English is the second language. In that area of the country sarcasm increases in direct proportion to the closeness of relationships. The net result is that Bostonians, and I’m sure New Yorkers too, are most sarcastic with their friends and relatives.
I’ve learned the hard way, that people in the Pacific Northwest neither speak, nor value, sarcasm. It’s simply rude. It doesn’t draw people close, it pushes them away. I’ve worked hard to eliminate it from my heart. It’s ineffective to simply eliminate sarcastic words from one’s vocabulary, it must be eliminated from the heart. I can backslide when talking with folks from the Boston area. It is difficult for me not to switch to my mother tongue when speaking with them, but I’m getting better.
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are the things that defile a person…” – Jesus Mt 15:19–20, ESV
I must have made some progress because God has moved me on from sarcasm to its nearest cousin: Slander. I’ve never given slander much thought because I always understood it as a version of lying, but slander is pernicious, it involves much more than lying. It’s any degree of tarnishing someone’s character. As Francis de Sales says:
“Slander is a kind of murder, for we have three lives—the spiritual life, which consists of the grace of God, the corporeal life, which is the soul, and the civil life, which consists of our reputations. Sin destroys the first, death the second, and slander the third; but the slanderer is guilty of a triple murder with his tongue. He destroys his own soul and that of his hearer by a spiritual homicide, and deprives the object of his slander of civil existence.
“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” – Mom
“David, speaking of slanderers, says: “They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps.” (Ps 140:3, ESV). Aristotle says that the serpent’s tongue is forked, having two points; and such is the tongue of the slanderer, who with one stroke wounds and poisons the ear of his listener and the reputation of him who he slanders.
“I implore you, therefore, never to speak ill of anyone, either directly or indirectly. Beware of falsely imputing crimes and sins to your neighbor, of disclosing his secret faults, of exaggerating those which are obvious, of interpreting good actions as evil, of denying the good which you know to be in him, or of maliciously concealing it or lessening it, for all these things grievously offend God: above all do not falsely accuse someone or deny the truth to defame him, which involves the double sin of falsehood and injury.
“The most refined and venomous slanderers are those who pretend to mean well, or craftily insinuate their poison by means of jests and banter. ‘I really love him very much,’ one will say, ‘and altogether he is a good man, but in truth he was wrong to commit that breach of trust,’ or ‘that woman is highly virtuous, it is a pity that she slipped once,’ and so on. Do you not perceive the artifice? The archer draws his arrow as near to him as possible, but his object is that it should fly all that much further, and while these men seem willing to retain their slander within themselves, they actually launch it more fiercely.”
Character . . . ouch.
If you are ever kneeling before the cross, in the holiest of poses, don’t be surprised if God pokes you in the eye with issues of character.
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Dr. Rob Oberto is the award-winning author of “Intimacy With God: Extraordinary miracles that opened a skeptic’s heart to God” available from Amazon.
©2017 Rob Oberto, All Rights Reserved.