Barnabas Piper updated his Facebook status the other day with this:
“God, I thank you I’m not like that tax collector,” prayed the Pharisee.
Be careful lest we take the same tone toward white supremacists.
Keep that in the back of your mind, and fast forward to about an hour ago, when I went out to my car carrying two trash bags. One for trash. The other for items that needed to be brought in the house and put away (it’s been a while since I cleaned it!). When I made the trek from the house to the car, it was beginning to sprinkle, but I thought I could get it cleaned before the bigger part of the storm arrived. I was wrong. Within a matter of a few seconds, sprinkles turned to heavy downpour, followed by continuous lightning and thunder. Not even a second passed between lightning strikes, which is totally irrelevant to this blog, but nonetheless, amazing.
I’ve heard the safest place to be in a lightning storm is the car, so I shut the door, turned on the radio, and settled in. I continued to gather garbage, while listening to a preacher talk about humility and how to gain it. I won’t go into all the sermon details, but in the middle of his message, he quoted the same verse in Luke that Piper quoted (which is decidedly not humble):
“God, I thank you I’m not like the other men ….”
So there I was, trapped by a raging storm, surrounded by personal trash, while God called to my mind for the second time in two days a verse that spoke of being a hypocritical Pharisee. And I said to myself, “Self, this hypocrisy is you. This hypocrisy is all of us.”
My breath fogged up the windows, preventing me from looking anywhere but straight at my own reflection in the rear view mirror – a peculiar symbol of what God was showing me.
The finger pointing taking place in conjunction to the situation in Charlottesville is dizzying, like watching a tennis game on fast forward. The alt-right did such and such. The alt-left then did such and such in return. The entire nation is pointing fingers, and I find myself looking yonder at so and so, and in all my looking outward, to the right, to the left, I forget to look straight at the woman in the mirror. Perhaps some finger pointing is necessary, for we should recognize evil and call it out. But I can’t help think that if we would train ourselves to look on someone who has committed evil, call it as such, and immediately examine our own hearts for a carbon copy of the same evil, the outcome would be better than what we’re seeing. Instead of hateful mobs, killings, and injuries, we could have deep, personal sobriety, self-examination, and a humble disposition that says “but for the grace of God, there go I.” Because if we think that racism, which is just another word for hate, is reserved for someone else’s heart, we are exceedingly prideful. Not to mention dead wrong.
While we are called to recognize and call out evil, we are called more often to root out evil from our own hearts. And if we ever think we are above the Law or righteous Law keepers, let us think again. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10) And lest we fool ourselves into thinking we have kept the whole Law, Romans 3:10 tells us differently, when it says “there is none righteous, no, not one.”
As we recognize and denounce evil in others, let’s make sure we’re denouncing evil on both sides, as well as the evil lurking in the crevices of our own hearts. It is time for denunciation. It is also time for humble self-examination.
Instead of uttering the Pharisaical prayer “God, I thank you that I’m not like the other men”, perhaps the more appropriate prayer would be, “God, I am sorry I am indeed like the other men, to one extent or another. But I’m thankful You have shed your blood for my sins, and I ask you to search my heart. Reveal any hate I might have for my fellow countrymen and countrywomen, red or yellow, black or white, for the evil they’ve taken part in – or simply because of they are different than I am. I need Your grace to keep me from fueling and acting out hateful feelings and thoughts. Weed them from my heart, Lord. May the stench of my own garbage be so pungent it cannot be ignored. Lock me in a car, preach at me, and send a storm all around me to reveal the stench. I am blind. Deaf. Hard of smelling. I am judgmental. I need help seeing my sin. My intolerance. My self-righteousness. My bitterness. My anger. I need help in loving my neighbor as myself. Infinitely more help in loving my enemies. I cannot do what you’ve called me to do on my own, therefore I humble myself and ask you to reveal my sin, cleanse me of it, and make me a new creature.”
This prayer, and the habit of keeping close tabs on our own offenses toward a holy God is the path to personal and political peace … and a lot less garbage. Finger pointing and hating, on the other hand, will only keep the vicious cycle cycling.
God, help us choose right.