bible faith guilt injustice jesus religion righteousness self sin spiritual life struggle theology

Being Right


Of all the desires that motivate human beings, the desire for personal righteousness—wanting to be right—is the most pernicious. There is no evil, no matter how unspeakable, we will not commit if we can convince ourselves that what we are doing is for the greater good. We will put up with caging children at our borders, turning away the poor and sick, righteously stifling our own sense of mercy in service to outrage at some injustice. The desire to be right makes us spin our own actions, not only to impress others, but to burnish the image we have of ourselves. We willingly deceive ourselves about ourselves in order to preserve an image of ourselves that is noble, caring, even kind while approving and even performing acts that are cruel and selfish. The desire for personal righteousness makes us remorseless and unrepentant. After all, repentance requires acknowledging sin in our own lives. Sometimes, we willingly acknowledge some acceptable sin in an effort to cover up a deeper, more entrenched sin to which we are culpably blind. No wonder Jesus talked about picking specks out of others’ eyes while being unaware of the plank in our own eyes!

The Bible writers were well aware of how pervasive and pernicious is the desire to be right. That is why they repeated again and again, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” They wanted to assure their readers that no matter what they thought about themselves, the reality was that all their efforts at being right were worthless. As Isaiah puts it, “All our righteous deeds are like used menstrual cloths.” They are not merely rubbish, but the worst, most disgusting rubbish. (The Jews regarded a woman during her period as ceremonially unclean. She could not enter the temple or approach God. Whatever she touched would also become unclean. While laws regarding menstruation unfairly stigmatized women, they also protected the community from the spread of disease at a time when humans knew nothing about microbes.)

We cannot merely rid ourselves of the desire to be right, however. It is fundamental to our humanity. Though it deceives us time and again, it also makes us want to do better. It inspires us to keep trying to do good. What a quandary we are in—wanting to do what is good but lacking the capacity!

Therefore God has imputed righteousness to those who put their faith in Jesus. He satisfies our desire to be right without requiring us to be sinless. Because he has shown us such mercy and grace, he enables us to likewise show mercy toward those who are also trying—and failing—to do what is right.

Everyone is a hero in their own story. While some tell their story to evoke pity and others admiration, we all mitigate our sins to ourselves. We all make excuses for ourselves and seek forgiveness for our worst blunders. “If you only knew what it was like,” we say, and we are quite right to say it. None of us knows anyone better than ourselves. We know how hard we try. We know how often we fail. Despite this knowledge and the free gift that God offers of his own righteousness, we remain unwilling to acknowledge before him just how much we need what he has. To do so, we would have to admit we were wrong.


Why I’m Leaving Facebook


I’ve put up with it for a long time now, this nagging feeling that I need to make a change. Every time I’m on Facebook, I leave feeling a bit worse than when I started. It’s like an itch I can’t reach or a mild toothache, a low-level irritation that never quite rises to the level of something actionable. I’ve justified it by telling myself that everyone is on Facebook. Leaving it would cut me off from my friends and family, a genuinely serious concern.

The political climate has contributed to my decision, but it is not the determining factor. I have no trouble accepting people who don’t share my political opinions. But I’ve grown tired of having to always be on my guard, not against lies—that’s easy—but against vitriol, sarcasm and ridicule. Not that I am often a target. Indeed, I’m a mild-mannered, inoffensive guy whose interest in political subjects is mostly academic. No, it’s the negativity spewed toward politicians, government officials, and public persons that I find objectionable. Derision is one of the easiest modes of disagreement because it requires no evidence, no support. All you have to do is find something ridiculous and exaggerate it. Since mockery makes no argument, you can offer no rebuttal but to deride your accusers in turn. I’m tired of it.

I have argued vehemently against many of the President’s policies from his dismissal of environmental protections to his cruel and inhumane immigration policies, but I am tired of seeing him constantly pilloried by liberals. I’m equally tired of seeing the same treatment meted out to Democratic candidates and politicians. I’m tired of making the constant effort to see the good in people who make no corresponding effort to see the good in those with whom they disagree.

I’m tired of the self-righteousness. Of course, we all have a little self-righteousness. How can we help it? We want—sometimes desperately—to be right. We forget that there is a little bit of what we hate in the purest among us. Facebook somehow encourages moral myopia, magnifying the misdeeds of others while blinding us to our own. It feeds and justifies our sense of outrage and presents us with a community of like-minded people who will agree that what we believe is good and right and that what they believe—it matters not who they are—is stupid and wrong.

It is my own weakness, however, that has made me realize that Facebook is not for me. I have a weakness for intellectual debate. Facebook both feeds and frustrates this proclivity, making it seem that debate is possible, and then showing me time and again that most people mistake vituperation and abuse for debate. Moreover, I am arguing with people I can neither see nor hear, so there is a disconnection from their humanity that makes it easy to be less sensitive to them as people than if we were, say, arguing over coffee or debating in a study group. Despite being fairly aware of the humanity of my interlocutors, I sometimes say things that unintentionally give offense. Our debates lack context, becoming just so many words aimed at winning in some pointless contest while onlookers cheer and boo.

So I’m leaving Facebook. It is the only social media I’ve engaged in, so it will leave me with no social media presence. I will miss the friends I can’t visit, but I think I will gain something in having more time and less struggle against Facebook’s algorithms. I haven’t even mentioned how Facebook spreads misinformation or how people often mistake satire for news. Those are good reason for leaving, too, but they are less personal.