My friend Sarah was sharing with me about her experience in ministry. She has noticed that many of us move through our lives with what she called “invisible condemners.” As I understood what she was saying she was describing how many times we apologize for and even rationalize to these invisible voices who are constantly condemning our actions and being. It is the hyper critical voice that can crush our souls.
In adolescence humans develop something called the imaginary audience. This is the sense that there is a crowd of people who watching over our every action. Recall when you are a young person and you get water on your pants. The imaginary audience gives you the impression that everyone will notice you, that you wet your pants and that you are a fool. For the most part, the conception of the imaginary audience is heard as a critical voice (not unlike invisible condemners).
The imaginary audience may be recent terminology, but it is mentioned in the Bible. Hebrews 12:1-2 speaks in the following way:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
There is an imaginary audience that surrounds us. In Christianity we call it a great cloud of witnesses. However, notice that the great cloud of witnesses is actually a protest to the typical understanding of the imaginary audience. While the typical person has an imaginary audience who critiques and condemns them, the great cloud of witness that surrounds us encourages and supports us.
You may roll your eyes at the idea that there is a great cloud of witnesses, a collection of saints who have gone on before us who surrounds us. I mean who believes in angles and ghosts? Who believes in that which you cannot see or touch?
Tell that to your imaginary audience.