Mercy and Self-Righteousness
Have you ever heard any of these statements slipping past your lips?
“I can’t believe you did that!”
“I don’t deserve this.”
“I’ve got a right to be angry.”
“Why aren’t you serious about change?”
…[these statements are] leaking the hot oil of self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is a sense of moral superiority that appoints us as prosecutor of other people’s sinfulness. We relate to others as if we are incapable of the sins they commit. Self-righteousness wages war against mercy.
… How we respond when we think we’ve been sinned against can reveal self-righteousness. Perhaps the easiest and most common reaction is to assign ourselves as judge, prosecutor, court recorder, and jury. Not surprisingly, these tend to be pretty open-and-shut cases. We begin by mentally assigning a motive to the crime of our defendant-spouse. In a flash of mere moments we usher in the internal jury, present the case, and instantly get back a most unsurprising verdict: “Guilty.” Of the actual defendant no questions have been asked, no opportunity for testimony has been given, and no review of the circumstances provided. (91, emphasis mine)
How do we battle against this inner prosecutor rearing his ugly head? Harvey gives us some questions to ask ourselves (on pp 91-92):
- Am I self-confident that I see the supposed “facts” clearly?
- Am I quick to assign motives when I feel I’ve been wronged?
- Do I find it easy to build a case…that makes me seem right and him/her seem wrong?
- Do I ask questions with built-in assumptions I believe will be proven right? Or do I ask impartial questions—the kind that genuinely seek new information regardless of its implications for my preferred outcome?
- Am I overly concerned about who is to blame for something?
- Am I able to dismiss questions like these as irrelevant?
Then he adds this little gem of a thought:
Self-righteousness doesn’t just show up when people sin against us. It also expresses itself when we encounter the weaknesses of others. (ouch!)
… Weaknesses in our spouse can tempt us—they’re inconvenient and frustrating to what we want from our marriage. How do I respond when that particular weakness in my spouse arises again. Do I just keep insisting (aloud or silently), “I don’t see how that can possibly be a problem for you!” This is a particularly sad expression of self-righteousness. Rather than sympathizing with the weaknesses or limitations of others, we act in condescending and demanding ways. We are finely attuned to the weaknesses of others but slow to see our own. (92, emphasis mine)
Does your spouse have physical issues or ailments or limitations that bug you?
Is your spouse not organized enough for you?
Is he/she too forgetful for your tastes?
Do the weaknesses of your spouse drive you nuts?
Good thing Jesus doesn’t deal with you and your weaknesses like you deal with your spouse and his/her weaknesses! Aren't you glad he's not like you! Be reminded of how he is:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
And then ask yourself (better yet, actually ask your spouse!):
Would your spouse say you sympathize with weakness? That you extend to him or her the mercy Christ has lavished on you in light of your weaknesses? Or do you sit in judgment?
The good news for self-righteous, judgmental people (all of us from time to time) is that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13). When I grasp the mercy of God expressed to me, it opens my eyes to the bankruptcy of my own righteousness and sends me to the cross for the righteousness of Christ. I can then sympathize with my spouse’s weaknesses and rejoice in my own, for they reveal God’s strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). As John Stott has said, “God’s power operates best in human weakness. Weakness is the arena in which God can most effectively manifest his power. (93)
A few concluding application questions:
- How aware do you live of God’s mercy toward you?
- How can you grow in that awareness…and live life in that awareness?
(And a few from the WSSID Study Guide):
- Complete the following and share it with your spouse: One thing about the gospel that best helps me to not respond sinfully toward you in a situation is…
- Describe a way you have seen mercy expressed in your marriage. (Share it with your spouse and thank them for it!)
- What are some ways you can express kindness in your marriage?