Practical, Therapeutic, Theological Thought

by Penrod

Those who "measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves among themselves, are not wise" (II Corinthians 10:12).

Why so? For one thing, comparison takes one out of the present. In Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing, Soren Kierkegaard shows that the good is the only thing one can will without double-mindedness. To will one thing, one must be in the present.

If I am listening to music while I am writing, I am doing more than one thing. I may still be present, but there is a hazard. My one thing must somehow include both writing and listening. It is very pleasant but it does not allow pure attention to the music.

Comparison threatens the present when I begin to compare the performance I am listening to with another version. Also, comparison takes me out of the ball game when I begin to rate myself or to think of my image and appearance in the eyes of the fans and the players. The successful athlete keeps focused on the game.

It is not wise to compare ourselves with others. There is always someone bigger, smaller, smarter, dumber, better looking, faster, stronger than oneself.

Comparison can lead me to conclude that something which lacks integrity is okay for me because so-and-so does it. But, here we get into an area that is likely to lead to moral judgment and it would be a mistake to take these words of the Apostle as a statement of morality. He says clearly that it is a matter of wisdom.

It is true, though, that comparison is also part of understanding our present reality and of making good judgments. It is part of our intelligence when in action. If I want to tackle a ball carrier, it is important to reckon my speed in relation to my opponent as well as other relevant factors.

Sometimes we make comparisons to reconcile ourselves to a present situation and make ourselves feel better. Take for example, young Ingemar, in the movie My Life as a Dog. It is the 1950s and Sputnik is circling the earth. As they sit together in a culvert with rain pouring down, Ingemar says to his little dog: "It could be a lot worse, think of that poor dog up there in that little capsule… Comparisons like these help a lot."

It is hard to argue with that. When problems, difficulties, and dissatisfactions afflict me, and I compare my situation with one who is homeless or starving or living in a war-torn country, I realize that gratitude is wiser than my complaint.

Thinking this through confirms that comparison is not evil, but it is fraught with hazards. The Bible speaks about a specific type of unwise comparison—judging others or ourselves. It is not wise to make moral judgments about other people. "Judge not, lest ye be judged," said a wise man.

Penrod says that, in thinking about him, one should think first of Booth Tarkington's Penrod, the boy writer, and then of the mighty pen of Martin Luther with its power like unto the rod of Aaron.

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