The Cult of Self-Flagellation
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you,
not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think . . .
There is a subtle danger in confessing our brokenness. As we learn to acknowledge the seriousness of our failures and the depth of our sorrows, various forms of self-righteousness can creep into our thinking. Secretly, we may come to look upon those whose lives appear more trouble-free as being somehow less spiritually mature than we are.
Congratulating ourselves on how frankly we recognize our own misery, we may question the honesty of anyone who seems to be living a happy life. Surely such people are just not facing life's realities. They must be in "denial," as the cognoscenti say. And if it can be shown that some people really are free of anything but the minor annoyances of life, we suppose it must be because God knew that they couldn't handle serious sorrow as we have.
Sometimes we take an egotistical approach to praise and pity that is almost competitive in nature. Like fishermen trading tall tales, we play "Can you top this?" with our stories of hard times, as if there were something inherently praiseworthy about suffering. But great suffering does not by itself indicate nobility of character (1 Peter 4:15), and the Hebrew writer would remind us, "You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin" (Hebrews 12:4). Whatever we've suffered is only "such as is common to man" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
"Woe is me" is not always the humble statement it pretends to be. When Elijah complained, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life." (1 Kings 19:14), God dealt gently with Elijah's depression. But He also pointed out that the prophet hadn't cornered the market on righteousness quite as completely as he supposed: "I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him" (v.18). The truly "poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3) keep the focus on God's fullness, not their own emptiness.
True humility makes no pretense of being humble . . .
Francis de Sales
Copyright © 2006 by Gary Henry - Visit the WordPoints web site: www.wordpoints.com