Category Archives: Perspectives

On Ezra 3: The Curse of Comparison and Complaint

They complained. They murmured. The glory of the latter seemed incomparable with the former. They didn’t know how hidden beauty could ever exceed that which was exposed.

Such was the case of these older men.

In Ezra’s day, when almost everyone was excited about rebuilding their fallen temple, these elders seemed to be playing the antagonists.

They were just dissatisfied.

While the majority

“sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
‘For He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever toward Israel,’ “

the elders were complaining.

Was the Lord good? Absolutely. He always has been.

So, what was the problem?

Well, it was quite a case of “our generation’s experience was quite better than this one’s. We’re quite better.”

Yeah, quite. Quite. I knew that sounded a bit awkward. But that had a purpose.

The little annoyance it evoked in you, dear reader, was meant to stir the pondering thought.

“And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.”

I’ve been quoting from the English Standard Version. That’s Ezra 3:11.

The foundation of the house of the Lord has been laid! It was indeed a reason for joy. The ones who shouted had been exiles. They had been exiled to the land of Babylon. By this time, after a great number of years, they have been shown the mercies of the Lord.

Not only are they now “the returned exiles,” they are also going to rebuild the temple of the Lord.

A Cause for Complaint?

So, how can a reason for joy be a cause for complaint?

Guess what. It was a case of comparison.

Comparisons are indeed a curse.

It has been the curse of many generations. It is still a prevailing curse now.

No, not if you mean comparing yourself to The One Altogether Lovely. No, not if you mean simply looking at Him as if He’s a mirror. No, not if you mean coming before Him in humility. No, not if you mean simply seeing yourself as you really are, for

“The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature.” – Steps to Christ, p. 64, par. 2

No, not if you mean any of these.

Apparently, comparisons are good for those who purpose to use the results in humility.

Examples of healthy comparisons

Some comparisons are a blessing. Some are simply innocent.

  • Seeing yourself in direct contrast with Jesus (as mentioned above)
  • Assessing your own progress in an area of knowledge in terms of a certain criteria
  • Putting side-by-side two products or items you consider buying
  • Figuring out the benefits or advantages of a new product against a standard
  • Evaluating your past practices against your present ideologies

You can lengthen this list.

But before you do, let’s continue with our discussion.

When comparison becomes evil

So, when does an act of comparison become a cause of trouble? Well, we can also bring up a list.

  • Seeing yourself as someone better than others
  • Looking at your neighbors’ (read: Facebook friends’) achievements against yours
  • Arguing against God’s revealed counsels against your own logic

Basically, that’s all. If you wish to add something to the list, you are most likely adding a version of any of the three I had already placed there.

In other words, comparisons become evil when it’s all about pride.

And pride is definitely a curse. As said,

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18, ESV

You see, when comparisons are born out of pride, the modus of comparison is identical to selfishness.

Let me repeat that.

Comparisons rooted in pride are selfish. Pride is simply selfishness, by the way.

Now, let me rephrase our list of three above for you to see this even more clearly.

  • am better than you.
  • I have something better than what you have.
  • I have wisdom better than Yours (God’s).

Again, these are comparisons that are already evil. Pride is evil. Selfish is evil.

You see, prideful comparisons simply say:

  • myself
  • my possessions
  • my wisdom

are superior.

In other words, you are inferior. I am better

Me. Myself. I.

It is all about self.

Evil comparisons are all about self.

And When Does A Comparison Lead To A Complaint?

Well, it happens.

“I think I’m better off than him. What is he doing up there?”

You would hear that, or a something like that.

Well, you heard that. You heard that minutes ago when we first mentioned them. Yes, the elderly.

To give you what they did straight from the Biblical account, here’s the passage:

“But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid…” – Ezra 3:12, ESV

Notice the word “but.”

The word “but” did have a precedent. Remember what was happening in verse 11?

The people were praising the Lord!

Now, what was going on?

Basically, these elders were complaining. And how did the complaint come out? What was the basis of the complaint?

Wait, the passage is saying they were only weeping. Did it say they were complaining?

Apparently, yes. These—

“…old men who had seen the first house…”

—were seeing the second house. By the way, this is talking about the “house,” i.e., the temple “of the Lord.”

There’s a “first” and a “second” house. Apparently, those who have seen the first one are now seeing the second one. And it appears that the second one is quite inferior.

Well, it is, in many respects.

The “first” was Solomon’s temple. Nothing could be compared to it. It was dazzling. It had been accompanied by special tokens of God’s favor. The blessings showered even upon the dedication of that temple were amazing. God has given evidence of His favor by visible tokens of His presence.

And for this second one, even seeing just the foundation, was to these elders a cause for weeping.

They wept because they compared.

So, again, when does a case of comparison become a case of complaint?

Well, a complaint does not come when there’s nothing to lose.

And the elders were losing…the glory.

There’s truth in their findings—the findings they had from their case of comparison. The elders saw the foundation of the second house, they recalled the glory of the first house, and now they see a big difference.

The second house is really inferior to the first.

Here’s a side note:

Note that the second house has not yet been built. Only the foundation was laid.

In fact, to get ahead of myself, the second house would take years to finish—three generations of “heathen” kings had to witness the struggle of the returned exiles in rebuilding the temple.

So, imagine the elders getting ahead of themselves, complaining about something that was not yet even finished!

Back to the question: how does comparison become a complaint?

Basically, as I’ve mentioned, it’s all about wounded pride.

Yeah, I’ve only mentioned pride minutes ago. This time, the emphasis is on the modifier.

It’s about a wounded pride.

Well, let’s just say the elders had good intentions. I, for one, thought that what they were doing was just fine. I also thought their act of weeping was just fine!

But when I read the inspired writings for more insights into this chapter, I was stunned.

Insights from the Pen of Inspiration

It was natural that sadness should fill the hearts of these aged men, as they thought of the results of long-continued impenitence. Had they and their generation obeyed God, and carried out His purpose for Israel, the temple built by Solomon would not have been destroyed and the captivity would not have been necessary. But because of ingratitude and disloyalty they had been scattered among the heathen.

Conditions were now changed. In tender mercy the Lord had again visited His people and allowed them to return to their own land. Sadness because of the mistakes of the past should have given way to feelings of great joy. God had moved upon the heart of Cyrus to aid them in rebuilding the temple, and this should have called forth expressions of profound gratitude. But some failed of discerning God’s opening providences. Instead of rejoicing, they cherished thoughts of discontent and discouragement. They had seen the glory of Solomon’s temple, and they lamented because of the inferiority of the building now to be erected.

The murmuring and complaining, and the unfavorable comparisons made, had a depressing influence on the minds of many and weakened the hands of the builders. The workmen were led to question whether they should proceed with the erection of a building that at the beginning was so freely criticized and was the cause of so much lamentation. – Prophets and Kings, p.564

What a depressing blow!

Indeed, the elders have made the mistake of

  • “murmuring”
  • “complaining”
  • making “unfavorable comparisons

—haven’t we mentioned that their “weeping” were actually expressions of complaint? Yes, we have!

And haven’t we mentioned that such complaints are born out of comparisons? Yes, we have!

And the elders—while it was “natural that sadness should fill” their hearts—”should have given way to feelings of great joy.”

They shouldn’t have murmured. They shouldn’t have “cherished thoughts of discontent and discouragement.”

But because they did, they have extended a “depressing influence on the minds of many, and weakened the hands of the builders.”

That was just a depressing blow, indeed!

Today’s Elders vs. The Noble Work of Some Youth

I couldn’t help but see through this story (which was not just a story but real history, by the way) the case of our youth today.

Some of us complain. Some of us murmur. We think we are better off than this generation of youth.

(I am using “we” to avoid sounding hypercritical.)

Yeah, we complain about these young people who are rebuilding the “house of the Lord”! We complain about their:

  • spiritual programs
  • missionary mindset
  • zeal for revival
  • desire for reformation

…and we think we’re better off than they? Is it because we’re “elders” that we’re better? Let me ask again. Are we even really any better?

Think for a while.

The “glory of the latter house will be greater”

Do you remember the promise made concerning the second temple?

“The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former…” – Haggai 2:9, KJV

The latter over the former? The second over the first?

Were the elders wrong?

Well, structurally speaking, the second house, when finished, was physically in no way greater than the first temple, Solomon’s temple.

But the promise of the LORD through the prophet Haggai was that the glory of this second house would be greater. How come?

It’s about Who’s inside

Remember how this prophecy of Haggai was fulfilled?

For centuries learned men have endeavored to show wherein the promise of God, given to Haggai, has been fulfilled; yet in the advent of Jesus of Nazareth, the Desire of all nations, who by His personal presence hallowed the precincts of the temple, many have steadfastly refused to see any special significance. Pride and unbelief have blinded their minds to the true meaning of the prophet’s words.

The second temple was honored, not with the cloud of Jehovah’s glory, but with the presence of the One in whom dwelt “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”—God Himself “manifest in the flesh.” Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16. In being honored with the personal presence of Christ during His earthly ministry, and in this alone, did the second temple exceed the first in glory. The “Desire of all nations” had indeed come to His temple, when the Man of Nazareth taught and healed in the sacred courts. – Prophets and Kings, p.597

And today, it’s still about Who’s inside!

We can talk about our gray hairs. We can talk about our flying colors. We can talk about our presumed wisdom. We can talk about our wealth of experience.

But none of these things matter!

It’s about Who’s inside!

And, dear youth—in case you might misinterpret this piece as if I’m being a defender in your case—beware.

Just because you are young doesn’t mean your fresh methods are always right.

Remember, it’s all about Who’s inside!

If you miss that point, the “elders” and you do not have any difference.

We do not have any difference between them who, for wounded pride, had caused the rejoicing young rebuilders—reformerssuch a depressing blow!

The depressing blow caused an unnecessary delay

Could those who failed to rejoice at the laying of the foundation stone of the temple have foreseen the results of their lack of faith on that day, they would have been appalled. Little did they realize the weight of their words of disapproval and disappointment; little did they know how much their expressed dissatisfaction would delay the completion of the Lord’s house. – Prophets and Kings, p.565

How tragic!

If we keep on complaining…

If we keep on murmuring…

If we keep on discouraging the work of some of our noble youth of today, we will delay the rebuilding of the temple of the Lord—we will delay the reformation within the house of the Lord!

Take the Curse Out of God’s Church

As much as God longs to dwell in His physical sanctuary back in the Israelites’ day, God longs to dwell in the hearts of His church—His people today.

And as much as there needed to be a reformation among God’s people in the past, so there needs to be a rebuilding—a reformation within God’s church today.

But what do we see?

We’ve seen complaints. We’ve seen murmuring. We’ve seen wounded pride. We’ve seen countless careless words thrown overboard by those who despise

…”in” God’s house.

If we continue doing this, we’d be delaying the second advent.

We need repentance.

Enough with fancy church programs

It is when the vital principles of the kingdom of God are lost sight of, that ceremonies become multitudinous and extravagant. It is when the character building is neglected, when the adornment of the soul is lacking, when the simplicity of godliness is despised, that pride and love of display demand magnificent church edifices, splendid adornings, and imposing ceremonials.

But in all this God is not honored. He values His church, not for its external advantages, but for the sincere piety which distinguishes it from the world. He estimates it according to the growth of its members in the knowledge of Christ, according to their progress in spiritual experience. He looks for the principles of love and goodness. Not all the beauty of art can bear comparison with the beauty of temper and character to be revealed in those who are Christ’s representatives. – Prophets and Kings, p.565-566

Let us rather be unlike them

Enough is enough. The devil has made too many winnings in the match.

Let us let God win.

And let us be unlike them.

They complained.

They murmured.

The glory of the latter, to them, seemed incomparable with the former.

They didn’t know how hidden beauty could ever exceed that which was exposed.

The Psychology Behind Changing One’s Image

Girls do have haircuts when they wish to move on. What could have been the psychology behind such an image change?

Well, it doesn’t happen with girls alone. Boys do express in their own ways a change in their image once they experience a correspondingly eventful crossover in their lives.

Nowadays, expressions of such a change have become a lot easier with the aid of social media.

People change their profile pictures when going through something. It doesn’t always have to be a dramatic event. Sometimes the drive comes from a real success story. You find that evident around a graduation season.

But what is truly interesting is that people change their image not just in social media or by means of haircuts. Some people change almost overwhelmingly when they come to terms with what we call “an encounter with God.”

They seem to be saying that the God they met was just so out-of-this-world that their whole perspectives just change. Just that.

Now that seems to be overwhelmingly powerful. But it’s not an everyday story. People usually get to the realization of who God is to them, individually and personally, after days and weeks and months of wooing. Years even.

Usually, it’s gradual. Not too fast.

My Sister’s Haircut

Just last Friday afternoon, I went with my sister to a rather known fashion hub in the city we live in. People typically enjoy fast and professional service. Obviously, they like the place for reasons other than mere affordability.

people having a haircut
People love the experience of change in terms of looks, especially with a new haircut. Blessy’s right there, going through the “exciting” process.

More than this, people like the feeling they’d get after the job is done. They’d get their new haircut, and they’d enjoy prettily polished nails.

In fact, before any change even occurred, you would already witness happiness painted like a curve on their faces. My sister just posed for a documentation when I asked her.

Blessy in her pre-haircut smile
My sister immediately striking an excited pre-haircut pose the moment I asked her to

You see, the anticipation of the coming change (which in this case is a change for good) is something that already brings satisfaction to the one who wishes it.

The Psychology Behind the Image Change

The psychology lies simply on the basic idea that people love to feel good, to be satisfied, to feel relieved. And if changing one’s image does all these, it would be worth the effort.

Yes, the effort. Take note that it is the natural tendency of even mere physical objects to resist change and simply keep the status quo.

Any significant change requires some effort

You have seen this in physics. Newton’s second law of motion, that is. Force is required to make a mass accelerate. To be even more accurate, a net force needs to be there, and it should be nonzero.

Essentially, an acceleration, i.e., a change in either speed or direction, can only be made if there is a net effort.

Blessy and her new look
My sister’s new haircut. She likes it, quite obviously.

Obviously, my sister likes her new haircut. But she didn’t come to this achievement without any effort on her part. She had to go to a salon, show her desired cut to the service provider, and pay the amount worth the cut.

But she did it, no sweat

Yes, she may have made some effort, but she did it “no sweat” because of course, you say, she had a service provider do it for her. But that isn’t the point. She still at least paid back that effort by giving some of her hard-earned (or “hard-saved”) money just to get what she wants.

The point is that she was able to give that money up because she loved the end goal: she desired the change.

And anything change-worthy should be effort-worthy.

The effort would seem nothing if the reward was gold

Motivation, that is. The strong motivation to achieve the image change makes the image change a smooth and wonderful experience. The effort doesn’t seem to count anymore once the happy kid gets what he or she wants.

Again, if the reward is satisfaction, the psychology behind an image change simply tells us that while efforts do count, they won’t really matter if all the mind could imagine was the end goal.

People wish to move on

And that’s it. The most fundamental reason for an image change, aside from naming it satisfaction, is moving on. People love to move on from repeatedly getting drowned and down. Now what’s fascinating with human beings is that while the nature of the experience they want to be moving on from may be emotional, they wish to express the change physically. In other words, they would like to have a physical, tangible token for that particular move for change.

As often put, “There is power in a declaration.”

When we declare that we are committing to something, writing that commitment down or making a spoken vow about it simply makes the decision even stronger.

People change their image to seal their commitment

In a natural effort to seal a decision for a U-turn in life, people simply give themselves a new brand. This may be in terms of a new haircut, a closet makeover, a profile picture change, a new SIM card, a new curtain, a reoriented bedroom — or a new anything under the sun that the changing person can think of — as long as the “seal” aligns with the principle behind their behavioral change. This happens almost always naturally, without having to be thought deeply about. And yet it fascinates me that it happens (that’s why I’m writing this).

Yes, it does happen and it is actually good to recognize this “phenomenon” among your friends and peers and even in your own personal life.

The only catch in an image change

The only catch with such a recognition is the discovery that some of your image changes may have actually rooted from a desire to change for the worse, not for the better.

Having said that, we should now begin to understand how a profile picture change may either be worth some congratulations or worth empathizing with.

People may be doing image makeovers for all the wrong reasons, and this is such a cause for concern.

Some of your friends whom you cannot now recognize may actually be going through something. When you notice a friend who has “changed a lot” and has become happier and more blooming, good for you, and good for that friend. But if a friend has become even more secluded, you should know that something must have been wrong and that you should begin taking more time to think empathically about that friend.

Understand your reasons behind an image change and help others understand theirs

As in any case study, it is never enough to understand the psychology behind things, such as an image change. We need to take some action for our own benefit and that of others.

If you would like to take with you anything from this “perspective immersion,” let it be a renewed commitment to examine your own reasons for trying to change your image. Also, try to turn a more empathizing eye to the people around you. They may be down, helpless, seeking to help themselves but to no avail. Better yet, they may simply be happy to close an ugly chapter in their lives. Well then, congratulate them.

My sister is happy with her image change

For a bit of a disclaimer, before I close, my sister (like other girls) sometimes doesn’t really have an extra deep reason for a new haircut (but most of the time, girls do).

Well, the good thing about her image change is that it is certainly for the better. And if she’s closing another chapter, it certainly is a chapter worth learning and moving on from.