I knew something was wrong when Kathy was rustling the blinds in our bedroom, holding our new puppy whose “needs” I thought she had helped address. In my fog, I asked her what was wrong. In the hushed tone of concern, she said, “I think somebody is going through our trash cans.” She explained that when she opened the door to let Chipper out, she heard a clanging noise on the side of the house. She heard it again, and it sounded too methodical and rhythmic to be an animal (we get the occasional skunk and opossum like anybody else). She stealthily peeked out our front bay window and thinks she saw a dark figure going through the neighbor’s trash cans.
In my groggy state, without the sense to be more afraid than angry, I headed downstairs and then outside with a big stick in hand. The pilferer was gone, but his handiwork was apparent. A bag of garbage had been methodically opened and the contents rifled. Perhaps he sought unshredded documents. Maybe he was hungry. No one knows, but it makes one feel violated to have a stranger secretly sifting through one’s refuse.
Really, no matter why he was there, his actions were audacious, self-serving, and potentially harmful. I cannot see the justification. He chose an hour when he thought he would not be discovered. He trespassed on our property, thus being an uninvited guest. He was trying to take possession of that was not rightfully his.
How different was this “refuse rifler” from the gossip and the backbiter? They both do their work clandestinely, under the cover of “darkness.” They both enjoy going through other people’s garbage. They both are trying to get a hold of what does not belong to them.
Like the one enamored with a “different doctrine,” the gossip is afflicted with a “morbid interest” (cf. 1 Tim. 6:4). Maybe it is in secrets (Prov. 20:19), separating friendships or strife (Prov. 16:28), smudging character (1 Pet. 2:12), or something else, but backbiting is about as noble as rummaging through another person’s rubbish. Peter warned against being a “troublesome meddler” (1 Pet. 4:15; KJV–“a busybody in other men’s matters”). The next time we are tempted to gossip, let us remember that such makes us the spiritual equivalent of the “dumpster diver.” Let us all endeavor to mind our own business!