Sunday, June 28, 2009

Righteousness and Self-Righteousness

I listened to a story on the radio a few years ago about education in America, particularly about critical thinking. As a teacher of, among other things, critical thinking, the subject always catches my attention. One of the interviewees was recently fired from a Catholic university for daring to read with a critical eye: not the Bible, but the works of Augustine, his Confessions and his City of God. He dared to only view the Bible worthy of reading devotionally—that is, reading it uncritically. Devotional reading can be seen distinct from any other readng, as we do not judge the text, but allow the text to judge us.

We discover the worth of scripture in the text itself. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, and I’m sure many could quote it, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Job 40:2 shows us something similar, as God rebukes Job, saying, “Shall he that condends with the Almighty instruct Him? He that reproves God, let him answer it.” The Bible tells us that Job was righteous, but Job, in his misery and arguments with other people, went so far as to demand an answer from God. God is judge of man, not judged by man.

However, this talk isn’t about scriptural infallibility. What is the proper mode of man towards God? What one area did Job need help in? Pride. What God showed Job is something he already knew, something each of us knows: we are not God. And so, as Job had to abandon his pride at being right--regardless of whether or not he was right—we must abandon our pride.

Self-righteous pride, or intellectual pride, is the pride of knowing that I’m right and being frustrated that everyone else doesn’t realize it. There’s nothing wrong with being right, certainly not, but there is a problem with refusing the possibility that we're wrong, with rubbing people’s noses in it, with demanding that we're above questioning. Ultimately, this kind of pride is the belief that I can do no wrong, which is a problem of a different sort: only God can do no wrong, and I am certainly not God, so whatever I say can easily be wrong. Inspired scripture calls Job a righteous man and he evidently had a problem with this. Surely, then, it is likely that I may have a greater problem.

Scripture tells us that we need to be ready to give an answer when people ask us about our faith. Part of this means being able to show people what we believe, using the Bible alone. Others have more to say on this issue. Additionally, with everything in our lives where we don’t depend on the Bible—say, driving directions, but really anything that doesn't concern our souls or others' souls—if I have a desire to impose our view on others, to force it on them, the thing that makes me do that is the sin of pride. As Peter shows us in 1 Peter 5:5, it keeps us from God the same as any other sin, like drunkenness or sexual immorality. Peter writes, “God resists the proud.” However, Peter also notes something else: the cure for it is the virtue of humility: the realization that I am not only sinful, but also ignorant of a great many things. God “gives grace to the humble.

Certainly all of us have had problems with pride at some point in our lives. If you have had problems with pride in your life and need the prayers of the church, we are ready to receive you in loving and open arms, whether you know the blessings of being a Christian or have yet to put on our Lord in baptism.

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