It’s hard to miss Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount. The imagery is just too clear.
“Look at the birds and the flowers, I take care of them and I’ll take care of you also.”
“Don’t hide your light under a basket. It’s useless there.”
“Invest in things of eternal value. Things on this earth will just fall apart or get stolen anyway.”
And then this one:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do you not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5 ESV)
The contrast is compelling, almost comical, and the implications are straightforward. Before you judge the actions of another person, address your own sins, which may be far greater in comparison. This passage, and others like it, are often misread to imply that we should not point out the sins of others. That’s not Jesus’ point. Christian love requires that we call one another to holiness. But before we can do that with a tone of grace, a posture of kindness, and a motive of restoration, we must first consider our sins and seek, by God’s grace, to turn from them. We’ve got to take out our log before we can point out another’s speck.
But here’s the problem ‒ at least in my own life. The log is so hard to see. It doesn’t seem to make sense considering the image Jesus uses. No one should miss a log hanging out of their eye, much less be able to notice the meager speck in someone else’s. But we do it all the time. Why? Why is the log of my own sin so hard to see?
On one level, the answer is pride. At the root of my sinful actions lies a prideful heart that is unwilling to acknowledge and turn from my sin. True enough. Since Augustine, pride has rightly been seen as the ground of all sin, the well from which all sorts of sinful actions are drawn. Yet, pride is a somewhat nebulous concept, an easy target to place blame and a challenging enemy to address. Bubbling up from my pride are a number of concrete factors that shape my inability to see, and remove, the logs of my own sin.
The log has been there a long time
Logs don’t develop overnight. They’ve been around for a while. The subtle, almost unrecognized, growth of a log over time blinds us to its existence. Like a scar, we just get used to it being there. Someone else might immediately recognize the blight, but to us, it’s just a part of who we are.
The log might begin as a dry wit that masks deep insecurity during a person’s middle school years. Over time, this dry wit morphs into biting sarcasm that eviscerates other people in loveless hostility. Or, the log might begin as a feeble lie meant to make yourself look better than you actually are. Rather than addressing the subtle speck, in time, the log grows to the point that you’ve become a mere caricature of the good Christian who’s all style and no substance.
The log is excused as part of your personality
As a result, we are prone to conflate our sinful actions with our natural predispositions or inborn personality traits. The log has been around for so long that we assume it’s just how we are made.
Take the sin of worry for example. If I allow the sin of worry to fester in my heart as a teenager, then the log will continue to grow. Over time, I’ll get used to the log and fail to notice that it’s there at all. Then, when I do notice it ‒ most likely when someone else points it out ‒ I’ll excuse it away as just part of who I am.
“Well, I’ve just got an anxious personality,” I might say. Or, “I’m just the kind of person who speaks my mind” rather than “I’ve got a sin issue with controlling my tongue.” Such excuses more deeply embed the logs we are meant to extract.
We’ve tried to remove the log before and failed
The best time to remove the log is when it first starts growing, before you get comfortable with its existence. Some try ‒ they see the sin for what it is and seek to extract it. But they fail.
It’s much like the process of removing a splinter. You get out the needle and the tweezers and go to work ‒ but it hurts, the splinter is deep, so you give up. Intuitively you know that an ingrown splinter will lead to greater pain in the future, but for now, you’d rather not endure the pain.
Anytime you are reminded of the splinter you remember the pain of the last time you tried to remove it and quit before you even begin. Then, if you ever go to remove the splinter in the future, you find an infection that makes it painful to even touch the skin around the splinter. Now, any hope of removing the culprit will come with great pain.
The log is socially acceptable
So the logs remain, glaringly obvious to others but hidden from our eyes. To others, our speck looks like a log, and to us, their speck looks like a log, so few are actually seeing logs for what they are.
This problem is compounded by the cumulative effect of logs in a culture. If enough people fail to remove their logs, and their logs look a lot alike, over time certain logs become the cultural norm. Everyone has one. Like flannel shirts and skinny jeans, if enough people have them then no one is willing to call attention to how funny we all look with logs hanging out of our eyes. Logs of materialism or sexuality are difficult to address if everyone else is walking around with the same log protruding from their eyes as well.
We kind of like the log
All of these factors build up a head of steam in our lives. We’ve had the log for many years. We begin to assume it’s just part of who we are. We think we can’t get it out if we tried. And, we start to spend our time with a bunch of log-eyed people.
In time, we find that we start to like the log. We begin to think we should just embrace it ‒ after all, we couldn’t get it out if we wanted to. So, masked behind the foolish cliché of “just be yourself” we begin to flaunt the log in our eye. We wear it as a badge of honor and foolishly call “what is evil good and good evil” (Is. 5:20).
This process, over time, makes the simple command of Christ one of the most difficult to practice. It produces a horde of log-eyed people who simply can’t see their log anymore. Not only are we blinded to our own sin, but we are incapable of helping our brothers and sisters address their sins either. Far better to assume today that I have a log in my eye, begging the Spirit to allow me to see it for what it is and remove it before it’s too late.