'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.
The Bible points to the truth that God is the one, perfect Mind. This infinite Mind actually constitutes all consciousness, governs all action. There aren't other, lesser minds, just as there aren't other, lesser gods. The one Mind expresses its own pure goodness and intelligence throughout creation.
As we begin to accept God as Mind, the appearance that there are imperfect, mortal minds seems less like solid fact, and more like a deception. Rebuking such a deception by disbelieving it is the way to destroy it.
Since God is unerring, there are no error-prone minds. God's reflection is Godlike. Glimpsing this truth helps bring it to light in ourselves and others. We become gentler and wiser in judgments because we see that wrong behavior just can't be a permanent or real part of spiritual identity.
These truths led me gradually out of the problem of compulsive eating. Like so many others, I found out that material indulgence doesn't satisfy. But striving, and even fighting, to affirm God's control over our thoughts and behavior does. The ability to subdue and eventually eliminate ungodlike feelings and actions belongs to everyone, always, because divine Spirit is over all.
"Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy, says: "Rise in the strength of Spirit to resist all that is unlike good. God has made man capable of this, and nothing can vitiate the ability and power divinely bestowed on man" (pg. 393).
If we compare human life to long-term togetherness in a sealed space station, do we have any other option, really, than loving each other? A beginning step toward attaining this love is to engage in an honest battle to bring our own thoughts and behavior under God's control. This naturally results in gentler judgments. In a trust that God gives us all the ability to rise above our shortcomings through the strength of Spirit.
Judge not, that ye be not
judged. For with what
judgment ye judge, ye shall
be judged: and with what
measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
Matthew 7:1, 2
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society