READ: Job 40-42, Psalm 13, John 6, Revelation 14
THE CURE FOR SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS
Fenelon reveals the root of self-righteousness. He says that we “start to mistreat the people we are secretly jealous of. Jealousy, hidden in your deepest inner folds, exaggerates the least faults of others. Then come the disguised criticisms. You deceive yourself in order to justify yourself…Your self interest hides in a million clever disguises. There is no end to the excuses we will come up with…Even your outrage at the faults of others is a great fault. Don’t you see your own wretchedness? It would certainly level your self-righteousness to the ground” (The Seeking Heart, page 146).
Job is a great illustration of both the descent into self-righteousness and the recovery. After sputtering out all his protestations as to why he was good and did not deserve suffering, Job is confronted directly by God who asks a series of questions. God points out that Job’s excuses really were an attempt to correct God (Job 40:2). This metaphysical slap across the face stuns Job into silence and he says: “Behold I am vile…I lay my hand over my mouth” (40:4). When God confronts Job, he realizes: “I have uttered what I did not understand…therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (40:5, 42:6).
Self-righteousness is tricky for us as it is equal parts flesh and righteousness. Usually we are in part correct about something, but our attitude towards others in that correctness is errant. We speak out of place, we assume a posture unbecoming, and we correct our leaders (or judge them) when we should just shut up and let the Lord work things out. At other times, friends or colleagues misunderstand or abuse us (as did Job’s friends) and we join our error to theirs by despising them for hurting us.
Job’s story demonstrates the escape from the deluded prison of self-righteousness. First, we have to see ourselves clearly and repent of what we see. Like Job, we need to clap our hands over our mouth, admit to God and ourselves that we are idiots, and be genuinely sorry for our presumption. Second, we need to forgive those that have offended or insulted us. “The Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends” (42:10). We must be careful that forgiveness does not re-start the cycle of self-righteousness (I am better than you so I forgive you). When we forgive out of the shame of being an idiot and the joy of being forgiven ourselves, the root of self-righteousness is severed.