I hate being wrong. Of course no one enjoys it when they are mistaken, but some people tend to be more experienced at it than others and therefore better able to deal with it (wink wink).
Once upon a time, back when I was just a young lad in 4th grade, I learned a valuable lesson about self-deception. I learned that being “wrong” is bad; but what’s worse is being wrong and having everyone else realize it except you.
My 4th grade teacher had given us an assignment to create a large poster with all the creatures of the sea that we had just learned about in class. So I – being a studious young man from a young age – took great care to systematically go through the chapter and draw each animal that the textbook mentioned (we didn’t need to draw them all, but as you can see I was an overachiever from a young age).
I not only drew each animal, but decided that I could be more accurate by tracing the pictures directly out of the textbook. This project has A+ written all over it! I finished my drawing and colored it to the best of my ability and turned in my project.
The next day, the teacher declares that she is going to display some of the projects in the hallway to show off what we are learning. I of course – fully expecting that mine will be selected – begin preparing my victory speech to be delivered at recess that day.
And then, to my surprise, my project is not selected for display.
What’s that? Is this a mistake? Can I get a recount please? CONSPIRACY!
It gets worse. Not only is my project not selected for display, but the teacher returns it to me and gives me – a shudder to even write these words – a grade of 70%!!!!! WHAT?!
You can imagine my confusion. I assume this must be a mistake (maybe 70 is the new 99?) and go straight to the teacher demanding an explanation. Her answer (I remember this like it was yesterday): “THE OCEAN’S NOT PURPLE!”
Let me back up here and fill you in on some important details. I am color blind. I have been color blind since birth (apparently) but didn’t realize it until I was much older. Part of my color blindness is that I cannot distinguish between blue and purple. They are identical in my eyes and for many years, I assumed they were identical in everyone else’s eyes as well (this also led to my now infamous “purple shorts” that I sported for years in high school).
So when I was completing my 4th grade masterpiece, I reached for the purple crayon when it was time to color the ocean – not realizing that it was any different than the blue.
Apparently I was wrong. And everybody knew it…except me. My classmates knew it… my teacher knew it… even the immature little 3rd graders who knew nothing about the real world knew it too. Everyone knew it except me!
That experience has taught me the dangers of self-deception – being wrong and having everyone else realize it except you. That’s never a situation I want to find myself in – especially when it comes to the important things in life.
I never want to think I’m close to MY WIFE and that everything is fine when it isn’t.
I never want to think MY KIDS love me and respect me and look up to me and then later find out that they don’t.
I never want to think that MY RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD is just fine and later find Him saying “I never knew you.”
I really really don’t want that to happen.
In the Bible, there was a group of people who really struggled with self-deception. I mean REALLY STRUGGLED with it! They were wrong and everyone could see their “wrong-ness” except them. Any guess who I’m talking about?
Jesus said that these guys were “blind leaders of the blind.” In other words, they were completely off. They thought they were good and righteous in the eyes of God; but they couldn’t be further from the truth. That is my nightmare – being blind to my true state – and I will do anything to avoid it.
So what do we do? How can we make sure that we aren’t deceiving ourselves? How can we make sure that we don’t end up like the Pharisees – people about whom Jesus said:
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15:8-9
That’s not an easy question to answer, but it’s certainly a worthwhile one to consider. I've blogged about that in the past. I think the most important thing we all need is a regular time of unbiased evaluation to consider our true state. For example:
Prayer: the Pharisees said more prayers than you and I ever will. But that doesn’t solve the problem. There’s a difference between “saying prayers” vs “praying.” Which do you do?
Church worship: the Pharisees never missed a prayer time or offering or sacrifice. They spent more time in the Temple than you and I will ever spend in church. But again, that doesn’t solve the problem. There’s a difference between “going to church” vs “being the church.” There’s a difference between “taking communion” vs “having communion.” Which do you do?
Bible: the Pharisees got you beat here too. You and I try to memorize verses. They memorized books! But once again, there’s a difference between “reading the Bible” vs “hearing the Word of God and letting it direct your life.” Which do you do?
Jesus said it this way: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
When Jesus says that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, don’t think He’s talking about what we do. He’s talking about how we do it.
If we don’t, we’re in danger of being very surprised when the teachers gives out the grades at the end of the class.
For discussion: what are some ways that can help you/me avoid the trap of self-deception?