When I was a kid, a wise adult said something to me that created a lasting visual image: “Remember, when you point a finger at someone, four fingers are pointing back at you.” Countless times through the years, that picture of the accusing pointing finger has come to mind in a moment when I had the impulse to condemn a person for something they said or did, before trying to understand the whole situation. In those moments, my awareness has sometimes moved from the one judging finger in my mental image to the other fingers that are pointing in my direction: Did I do something to contribute to the problem? Often, this has caused me to hold my tongue from saying something too hurtful, and it may even have led to better understanding, reconciliation and healing.
Recently, I thought about this saying again, and I had an Aha! Moment. There are not four fingers pointing back at me; there are three. The thumb is following its own journey, off in another direction entirely. As I meditated on this a little more, it occurred to, me that maybe the thumb is pointing to God! Is it possible that when we point a finger of blame toward someone, we’re not only ignoring the three fingers assigning some of the fault to us, but we’re also failing to understand what role God might be playing in the situation? What do I mean by this?
The Apostle Jude, who may have been Jesus’ brother, wrote a short letter which has been preserved as the next-to-last book in our Bible, just before the Book of Revelations. It was written as a warning to an early church about some very disruptive people who had become part of their fellowship and were in danger of destroying the church’s unity. His main accusation against them is not about false teaching, but about unworthy behavior. It wasn’t always easy to identify them as the problem in the congregation; he says, Certain intruders have stolen in among you (verse 4). Jude uses these graphic words to describe their influence:
They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever. (verses 12-13)
The kinds of things they did in their interaction with others in the church fellowship are described in verse 16:
These are grumblers and faultfinders; they indulge their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, flattering people to their own advantage.
The Greek word translated faultfinders is particularly interesting to me. It’s used only a few other times in the Bible (Romans 9:19, Colossians 3:13, Hebrews 8:8), and it seems to indicate pointing a finger of blame at another person. There’s my mental image again!
Which brings me to where Jude’s thumb is pointing. You have to read the whole Book of Jude. You can do it; it’s only 25 verses, less than two pages in the Bible. Jude sees many levels of meaning behind the interpersonal conflicts these finger-pointers are causing in the church. His mind scans Biblical examples, the Exodus from Egypt, Cain’s rebellion, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the false prophet Balaam and the rebellious priest Korah. He even goes cosmic, reflecting on warfare in heaven between good and bad angels sometime before human history. His point seems to be that these little finger-pointing dramas, petty bickerings among people who are part of a local church, are connected to an age-long spiritual tug-of-war that is under the ultimate oversight of God. That’s where the thumb’s pointing.
He gives a dramatic illustration in one of his numerous images:
When the archangel Michael contended with the devil and disputed about the body of Moses, he did not dare to bring a condemnation of slander against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (verse 9)
Jude portrays Michael as pointing a finger of accusation at the Devil, then recognizing that three fingers of self-awareness are pointing back at him (he did not dare to bring a condemnation of slander against him) and, finally turned to The Thumb: “The Lord rebuke you.” Jude took seriously his belief that the ultimate accusation can only be by the Finger of God.
Both in the arena of overheated politics around the drama of the election and the inauguration of a new President and in the escalating bad news surrounding the COVID Pandemic and our response to it, there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on right now. We do need to make sure the accusation finger does its work and focuses blame where it truly belongs. That’s important. But at the same time, we need to be aware of the three fingers pointing back at us, humbly taking responsibility for ways we may have contributed to the problems, rather than to solutions. Finally, as Christian believers, we always have to look at where The Thumb is pointing: What is God up to here? How does our current crisis fit into his age-long purpose for the people he created in his image? We should follow Jude’s advice and move our focus to the big picture. His big picture.