An important and often overlooked pitfall of overconsumption of media information is what we do with the news stories we see and hear. Tales of high-profile personalities involved in marital infidelity fill the tabloids, television channels and Internet. Theft, murder—name the crime—the stories all go into one’s mind for processing.
Much as the old technology of photographic film, our minds send recorded images and information into a series of thoughts, producing an image that can be beautiful and useful or ugly and harmful.
Consider the celebrity caught cheating on a spouse. Some hearing the story produce a holier-than-thou picture, patting themselves on the back for never having been unfaithful. Others ponder what might have taken that celebrity so far off course and resolve to avoid such circumstance. Still others see a sin against God, realize immediately that they have sinned, and give thanks for the divine mercy and grace on which they rely every single day.
Casting the first stone
It’s age-old human nature, this inclination to look down upon others who have sinned. That makes it understandable, but not acceptable. It’s as if we carry a bag of rocks, always ready to throw them at the bull’s-eye of another’s shortcomings rather than our own. When it’s the speck in their eye versus the plank in ours, we consistently spot theirs more clearly.
We all sin. It’s a fact of life. However, the moment I begin to consider someone else’s sin a greater transgression than my own, I’ve become the judge, thereby inviting judgment on myself and my life. It’s just so much easier to consider someone else’s weaknesses and shortcomings.
After all, I have no responsibility for that. The greater challenge is facing myself in the mirror, knowing that I have chosen temptation and temporary, worldly things over God’s deep, abiding love for me. And with introspection, of course, I’m left with the question of what I’m going to do about it.
Best and highest use
As we prepare a proper place in our hearts for Christ’s coming in this Advent season, we can truly look ourselves right between the eyes when it comes to sin and falling short of God’s gracious love. There are several steps we can take to make the best of a bad news story:
Thank God for the reminder—Our first and best reflex when we hear a story of sin is to be grateful for the memo that we’re constantly predisposed to sinful ways, thoughts and actions. We must be watchful and wary in our every waking hour.
Pray for those involved—Just as we would welcome the intercession of others on our behalf, we ask God’s mercy, grace and love on those who sinned as well as those who are hurt by the sinful actions.
Learn from the circumstances—We sometimes catch a glimpse into how a person may have stepped off the path heading toward the sin. In the example of marital infidelity, allowing oneself to be alone with a person of the opposite gender may provide sufficient temptation for the poor choice. Consider adopting the self-imposed rule that you’re never alone with anyone of the opposite sex other than your spouse. In the workplace, this can include the practice of scheduling business meals or other meetings with two or more other people to prevent any potentially sinful temptation or situation.
Check the mirror, ask for forgiveness—Make that news story prompt a quick examination of conscience to remind yourself of the most prominent or most recent example of your own sinful actions. Take a moment to ask God for His mercy and grace as well as the strength to overcome that sin in favor of choosing the much better option of God’s love.
God’s loving plan for us includes freedom to choose. We can be judgmental about the sins of others. We can also be judicious about the stories of others and use them to deepen our personal relationship with the Lord. How we choose will help to shape our own stories of accepting God’s unconditional gift of love throughout our lives.
John Carroll is a consultant and entrepreneur based in Mount Pleasant. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.