In this meaningless life, I have seen everything,
including the fact that some good people die young
and some wicked people live on and on.
So don’t be too good or too wise! Why destroy yourself?
On the other hand, don’t be too wicked either – don’t be a fool!
Why should you die before your time?
I hate self-righteousness and I sometimes find myself hating those who are self-righteous.
I hate self-righteousness because I am self-righteous. I rant and rave against ideas and actions that I think are wrong. I elevate my own ideas and actions to contrast against what I see as wrong. I see weaknesses in the way people practice their lives and I jump on it.
I forget that we are all like clay.
Self-righteousness is a dangerous thing because if you believe your own press, you begin to think that what you say can cover over what you do. It’s an overcompensation. And as a self-righteous person overcompensates, they grow increasingly blind to the disconnect between what they say and what they do. I know this because I do it myself. You’re reading my most favorite way to parade my self-righteousness. It’s part of who I am. Welcome to me.
I grieve for Eliot Spitzer today. His whole life is crashing and tumbling apart. His zealous self-righteousness has laid him low before not only a nation but the world. Eliot Spitzer has unwittingly provided supporting evidence for a belief I have held for many years:
When you see someone crusading against something and they do it zealously and publicly, you can be sure their crusade
is an outward expression of their own battles with themselves,
most often in the very area they crusade against.
Mr. Spitzer launched himself into the governorship of New York in large part by his zealous attacks against corruption, particularly on Wall Street. He is a pugilist, a man who brings fists and anger into the attacks he mounts against his enemies. He has a long record of delighting in bringing men and companies down low, usually in the name of self-righteous virtue.
In learning about Eliot Spitzer, I find one question keeps surfacing in my mind: How much of Spitzer’s attacks against corruption were really attempts to suss out the corruption he saw in his own dark heart? What motivates a man to be so destructively self-righteous? For sure, pride could be seen as the motivation most obvious to many. But perhaps below the surface of pride there is a branch from which another motive drives the man, where he quietly and probably infrequently says to himself: I hate my own corruption.
In this article on Ted Haggard, I made this same observation and brought its relevance to the nature of the church. I said that we fool ourselves into thinking that we, as people who aspire to connect with God, are very much like the world we claim to be separate from.
We are all wild, carnivorous beasts, prowling about,
searching for the meaty flesh of a weak soul on which we can feast.
And with blood covering our lips,
we talk about morality, righteousness, what God desires
and what it means to be a true believer.
Yet I find myself with another question today: How do we, as spiritual people, integrate our own failings and the failings of others with the notion that there are actions that are wrong and actions that are right? And how do we best respond when someone’s wrong actions have been exposed?
What does the balance between proper judgment and compassion for human weakness look like?
Part of my confusion comes from the disparity between the responses of Jesus and Paul. To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Yet to the man in Corinth who was having sex with his father’s wife, Paul responds with mighty judgment and proclaims that he has handed the man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh.
For many years, when I read the new testament, I see a huge disconnect between the attitudes of Jesus and Paul. Given a choice to be caught in my own hypocrisy and self-righteousness by either Jesus or Paul, I would not hesitate to choose Jesus. Paul scares me.
I have no answers to this question, though. The older I get, the less willing I am to loudly condemn the failings of another person. It’s easy for me to take this quote from Governor Spitzer’s web site, point to it and say, “Grab your nads, hoss, cuz you brought this on yourself:
In his inaugural address, Governor Spitzer said: “Every policy, every action and every decision we make in this administration will further two overarching objectives: We must transform our government so that it is as ethical and wise as all of New York, and we must rebuild our economy so that it is ready to compete on the global stage in the next century”.
Precisely because it is so easy, many people will point to Spitzer’s self-righteousness and delight in his demise as a just and proper vindication for his victims. Today’s Wall Street Journal had several quotes from those who were attacked by Spitzer where the sentiment was, I’m glad it happened. He deserves it because he’s a complete asswipe.
I kind of feel the same way toward him. Mostly, because I hate his hypocrisy. What’s easy for me to feel is the judgment and harshness of Paul. What’s not easy for me is to have the compassion, forgiveness and insight into the human condition that Jesus has. Judgment and condemnation is easy for me. The way of Jesus is not.
For the last week or two, I’ve been thinking of a question Jesus asks in Luke 6: Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say? He asks this question in the context of a teaching on the relationship between the fruit of a person’s life being a function of the kind of person they are. I’ve always interpreted this question as a rhetorical one with an implied sense of frustration and exasperation.
But lately, I’ve been thinking of it as a diagnostic question, much like when he queried Herod: “What is truth?” Clearly, Jesus was not soliciting Herod’s take on the nature of truth. It was a question intended to drive Herod to ask the question of himself. In asking the question, Jesus was inviting Herod to diagnose himself. Similarly, the question, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” is perhaps intended to to get you and me to diagnose ourselves.
Why do I, as a man who desires to know God and live well, constantly make decisions about how I live based on my own desires, my own darkness and my own insistence to find life on my own, without any guidance from God? Jesus is asking the philosophical Why Are You Like This? not to condemn us but to bring us to a place where we see ourselves more clearly. He already sees us for who we are, so the question isn’t intended to backfill a lack of knowledge on Jesus’ part. It is intended to get you and me to ask the question of ourselves.
So, this morning, I have some compassion for Mr. Spitzer because he’s just a man. He’s made of clay, just like I am, and he has had the misfortune of being exposed. One of my deepest life fears is to have all my weaknesses and failures known to the world. If anyone should ever spend a few days listening to the inner dialog of my soul and mind, I would be friendless and destitute.
Yet, on the other hand, Spitzer is a tool whose self-righteousness and behaviors have brought his own ruin upon him. In a profoundl
y real sense, he deserves what he is getting.
And it is in this tension that I find myself sitting. In sitting in this tension between compassion and satisfaction at his exposure, I keep asking myself,
How do I as a man hold judgment in my left hand
and forgiveness in my right?