The Heart of the Matter – Part One – Projection

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.  Who really knows how bad it is? (Jeremiah 17:9, emphasis mine).

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There is a saying that when you point the finger at someone, your accusation is actually truer of yourself—as evidenced by your hand: you’ve got three more fingers pointing back at you.

In psychology this is a phenomenon known as projection.  Projection takes a number of forms, but basically it is seeing yourself in those around you; projecting your motivations and desires upon them.  Think of it this way: your mind is the projector playing your movie on others as if they were a blank screen.  And it works because of that secretive heart.  That’s the reason why people tend to project their motivations and desires upon others: because in the vast majority of cases, we haven’t got a clue about what’s going on in the hearts of those around us.  Only God really knows a person’s heart.  Sometimes we don’t even truly know our own heart.

So the cheating spouse often questions the fidelity of the partner they are cheating on.  This is an unconscious way of lessening the feelings of guilt by accusing the other.

The bully targets people who seem to reflect his own feelings of insecurity and vulnerability.  His aggressive behavior is a way of showing himself that he’s not really so small, weak, and vulnerable.  And it’s as true in the schoolyard as it is on the international scene.  It would not be a stretch to imagine that Hitler suffered from massive feelings of insecurity and vulnerability.

Projection can also be in a hopeful way, and this is the one that I want to write about today.  As Christians, we have confessed and repented of our sins, and we are sincerely trying to live out that new way of life.  Because of this, most of us love spending time with other Christians because we can share our worldview with people who understand why we live like we do.

The problem is that because we are actively working on our own character, we tend to project that onto everyone else in the church.  The Bible says:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you, (Ephesians 4:31-32).

And we take that to heart—as we should.  At least most of us do.  The problem is that not everyone in the church is innocent.  Not everyone in the church is working on loving and forgiving others.  Not everyone in the church is (dare I say it?) born again.

Jesus even warned us about this:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field.  But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away.  When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.  The farmer’s workers went to him and said, “Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds!  Where did they come from?”

“An enemy has done this!” the farmer exclaimed.  “Should we pull out the weeds?” they asked.  “No,” he replied, “you’ll uproot the wheat if you do.  Let both grow together until the harvest.  Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn,” (Matthew 13:24-30).

The problem with projection is that we assume that those around us are working on their character, too.  The problem is that deceitful heart, with its hidden motives.  Just like Joshua, in dealing with the Gibeonites[1], we often go by appearances when choosing to trust people.  Instead we need to ask for God’s wisdom, every time.  We trust people way too much just because we have known them for a long time or because we have a lot of mutual friends[2].  Familiarity and projection leaves us, our families, and our churches vulnerable to people that are being used (whether unwittingly or deliberately) by the defeated enemy to destroy lives and churches.

Dear brothers and sisters, don’t be childish in your understanding of these things.  Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind, (1 Corinthians 14:20, emphasis mine).

Only God knows everyone’s heart.  Only God knows the motives and intentions.

For the word of God is alive and powerful.  It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow.  It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God.  Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable, (Hebrews 4:12-13, emphasis mine).

When I taught children’s Sunday school, I was constantly amazed at how little the parents knew of their own children’s spirituality.  Sometimes a mother would lament that her child seemed to lack any depth of spirituality.  While I had seen the same child asking questions that revealed a very active spiritual life.  Usually, with a few weeks of making this comment to me, their child would make a decision to follow Christ.

By the same token, I had a couple of very close family friends commit suicide.  Nobody had any idea that they had suicide in mind.  In fact, nobody even knew that they had been depressed.  When I was depressed, my days filled with thoughts of suicide, nobody knew that, either.  Not even those closest to me.

If we can’t know the thoughts and motivations of those closest to us, how can we possibly think that we know the heart of someone we only see once or twice a week?  One thing is for sure, the defeated enemy does not want us to thwart his plans to destroy the church and a whole lot of its people in the process.  We need wisdom.  We also need to remember that God is good!

[1] Joshua 9:1-27.

[2] Social media has made us especially vulnerable in this way.

One thought on “The Heart of the Matter – Part One – Projection

  1. Pingback: The Heart of the Matter – Part Four | Walking By Faith in Europe

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