Being a Busybody: The Devil’s Trap

“Faults in others I can see, but praise the Lord there’re none in me!”

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The term “busybody” usually refers to one who is intent on the matters of others but looks little to his own issues. Busybodies also tend to focus especially on the faults, foibles, and troubles of other folks. Seldom are they chattering away about good news related to other people; more often it is the scurrilous and scandalous that occupy their minds.

Merriam-Webster online defines a busybody as  “a person who is too interested in the private lives of other people.” It is a form of sinful curiosity.

Now personally I have never been a busybody, but I have known many of them … :-)  But more seriously, this is a human problem. Many of us are far too interested in things that are really none of our business. That alone is problem enough. But the problem is compounded in that the busybody is almost always too little concerned about his own ”issues” (we used to call them sins). When our attention to, fascination with, or scorn about sin is directed outward, we lose the proper introspection that properly examines our own need for repentance. The pointed index finger too easily ignores the three folded fingers pointing back at oneself, and those three fingers symbolize the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit urging us to look to our own vineyard.

Indeed, Scripture says, They made me keeper of the vineyards; but, my own vineyard I have not kept! (Song 1:6) For we who would be prophets too easily ignore the word of God as directed to our own souls.

Further, it is a common trap of the devil that he keeps us focused on what we cannot change so that we do not focus on what we can change. In other words, it is more difficult to change others and less difficult to change ourselves. Thus the devil would have us focus on others, who are hard to change, so that we will not focus on our very self, whom we can more easily change.

Thus, being a busybody is not only obnoxious, it is a trap the devil enjoys laying for us.

Pope St. Gregory the Great has a meditation near the end of his Pastoral Rule wherein he ponders the problem of the busybody. He uses the story of Dinah from the Bible. He does not use the term “busybody,” but the related concept of “self-flattery.” Let’s review some of his observations.

Frequently the crafty enemy … seduces [the mind] by flattery in a false security that leads to destruction. And this is expressed figuratively in the person of Dinah. For it is written,

Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land; and when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humbled her. And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob; he loved the maiden and spoke tenderly to her (Gen 34:1-3).

For [pertaining to us] Dinah “goes down to see the women of that region” whenever a soul neglects to consider itself and concerns itself with the actions of others and wonders beyond its own proper condition and order. And Shechem “takes the soul by force” inasmuch as the Devil corrupts the mind that is occupied by external matters. “And [Shechem’s] soul was conjoined to her” because the devil considers us conjoined to him through iniquity. And … the devil calls before our minds a false sense of hope and security … Thus it is written that Shechem “spoke tenderly to her” when she was sad [humbled]. For to us the devil speaks to us of the greater offenses committed by others … [Pastoral Rule III.29].

In effect, Gregory uses the story of Dinah as an allegory of the trouble we get into when we focus too much on the lives of others and look not enough to our own souls. For Dinah gets into trouble when she tours the land to see the pagan women (the Hivites) and inquires, with a sort of fascination, into what they do. And one of the men of that land seduces her, taking  advantage of the vulnerability caused by her sinful curiosity. But even after being humbled and sinned against, she still lets him speak tenderly to her. She is far too fascinated with the Hivites. And thus her rapist, Shechem, was able to speak tenderly to her and win her heart, a thing no rapist should be able to do.

But so it is with us. We are far too fascinated with the sins and struggles of others. Like busybodies we go out to consort with the people of the sinful world. And being focused on and fascinated by them, rather than looking to our own selves, we open ourselves up to being taken advantage of by both the devil and a sinful world. We are an easy target when we do not look to our own soul but rather are preoccupied with the scurrilous details of the lives of others.

And then the devil seizes us and has consort with our soul. He speaks “tenderly” to us telling us how, compared to others, we are not really so bad.  Here is a false security indeed. We have been sinfully curious as to the sins and struggles of others, and now we are in the devil’s clutches being reassured by him.

We should be angry with him for raping our vulnerable soul in the first place! But instead, we let him sweet-talk and reassure us.

And thus we are prey two times over. First, we indulged our sinful curiosity into the struggles of others, and then having done so, allowed ourselves to be falsely reassured by the devil of our relative innocence.

The bottom line is that busybodies are easy prey for the devil. By looking not to their own lives, but instead prying with sinful fascination into the lives of others, they wander into sin easily. And all the while, since they look not to themselves, they are easily deluded by the thought that at least they are not as bad as so-and so.

Then only problem is, “being better than so-and-so” is not the standard for eternal life. Jesus is the standard. Only grace and mercy can help us meet that standard.

The busybody is busy about all things except the one thing necessary. As St. Paul says, If we would judge ourselves truly, we would not be judged (1 Cor 11:31).

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