Originally printed as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel
'One need only grow old to become gentler in one's judgments," wrote Goethe. "I see no fault committed which I could not have committed myself."
The wisdom in that observation urges us not to wait to learn the lesson. It came home to me just about one year ago, when I was sitting in church at the height of the president's impeachment trial in the United States. The congregation was listening to the story of David and Bathsheba (see II Sam., chaps. 11, 12).
There were the obvious painful and hopeful parallels. The pride and folly of powerful men. Suffering leading to prayer. The opportunity for repentance to bring regeneration. But the particular message coming through to me was the need "to become gentler in one's judgments."
Scratch the surface of human mentality - whether of saints or sinners - and we find a similar need, in varying degrees, to overcome base, material instincts.
Look deeply into the Word of God, and we find the same healing truth in every age: divine Spirit gives us the ability to gain the victory.
Were some people's judgments gentling during that church meeting? Several members of the congregation told how they had prayed, sometimes over long periods of time, to gain control over various fears and weaknesses. And I remembered an experience of my own.
For several years I had a problem with binge eating. Nobody knew, because I did it only when I was alone. And I deceptively covered my tracks, for fear of embarrassment.
As I thought about what I had gone through, I could see that becoming gentler in judgments doesn't mean just admitting that everyone has shortcomings. On the deepest level it means learning to make a vital distinction - between each individual's spiritual identity as a faultless expression of God, and the wrong behavior that results from believing that we all have personal minds independent of God.