I’m sure you’ve seen it just like I have. You’ve probably done it just like I have. Someone runs into a chair, bends a toe back the way it’s not supposed to bend, peels the edge off the unfortunately exposed nail, and screams in sudden pain, “Stupid chair!” Of course I wince with empathetic solicitude, but underneath I’m thinking, “Who’s the stupid one? The chair hasn’t moved.”
Projection. We all do it. If you listen for it, you will hear it more frequently than you’d imagine. We like to project our inner turmoil outwardly onto any handy, unsuspecting person, object, or idea, rearranging the “truth” to fit our reality, bending the odds of gambled dignity toward our reputational preservation. This way we can deflect any unwanted attention that might expose some inadequacy on our part, keeping the focus away from potentially visible shortcomings.
There are a variety of species of projection: criticism, sarcasm, insults, grumbling, spite, hatred, unforgiveness, judgment, condemnation, slander, malice, gossip, anxiety, fear, disappointment, fantasy, manipulation, and the list goes on—all means of distracting ourselves from personal cause and affect of our own device. Paul says it this way:
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things…But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (Romans 2:1,3)
The truth is, whatever we say about someone else reveals more about us than the person we’re talking about. (Sobering reality.) And if we listen to someone else complain and don’t allow ourselves to be distracted by what or who they’re complaining about, we might learn more about that person than if we listened to them talk about themselves. (Few voluntarily surrender such subconscious secrets.) We’re so intoxicated by our own perspicacious observations and winsome wisdom that we seldom see the foolish divulgence of ourselves we are projecting unto the public screen.
One of the clearest displays of projection can be heard in the nightly news each time the word “haters” is used. In most cases, the true haters are the ones doing the labeling. Romans 1 ends by describing those who no longer acknowledge God, are given over to a depraved mind, and as a result, become haters of God who “not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (vs. 28-32). Having been “given over” to their lustful minds, they now project the consequences of their own actions unto others whom they need to see as the problem.
Jesus makes an insightful statement to Biblical day haters: the Pharisees. “The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness” (Lk. 11:34). Look (no pun intended), if you refuse the light of truth, your soul goes dark. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (21). A darkened soul can only project darkness.
“Misery loves company,” so haters hate, and to justify their existence, they have to find an object to project onto and some fellow haters to synergize their agenda. They’re unhinged, ungrounded, “truthless,” ruthless, calling God a lair, because their own heart is blinded by self-deception. They are now projecting their dark, internal lies onto the Light of the World. “If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Mt. 6:23).
Although not in the category of God haters or even unbelievers, many of us still spontaneously give God the credit for calamity. Like a clumsy stumble in the dark into an all-too-familiar chair, we can find ourselves projecting a little northward blame toward a Permanent Fixture when things go south: “Why did You let this happen God?!” (Dare I say, “Stupid God!”) Sounds terrible when we see it on paper (or read it online), but in the heat of the moment what’s inside comes out. What we emotionally believe simmers to the top of a boiling heart, and although we may not stay there, we initially project the internal ill onto an innocent By-Stander.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). Until we receive revelation, we will continue in projection, reflecting unto others (even unto God) that which we do not fully comprehend. Others may tolerate it. Certainly God can handle it. But may our words (here again as in last month’s InYou Window) be as humble as Job’s:
I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted… Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You; therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6)
Have you forgiven God lately? When it feels as though He’s sitting on His hands, know that He is patient, unrattled by earthly crisis, and eternal in perspective…but He isn’t stupid. That’s a projection from a short-sighted understanding, revealing the projector. Let God off the hook. Release Him from that which you accuse Him. He’s done nothing wrong. He can do no wrong. Instead, discover the depths of your own desperate heart—which only knows in part—growing as God heals what He reveals.