Recently I sat down at lunch with a church leader. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. The elders (deacons for your Baptists) were having trouble agreeing on a vision for their church. The pastor was trying to lead them in one direction and some elder says in so many words the most hard-headed sentence ever to leave the walls of a church business meeting: “We never did it that way before. Why can’t we just keep things the way the were.?”
I knew most of the people he was talking about. I knew them to be mature Christians who loved the Lord faithfully. But the description, however accurate, was of seriously hard-headed people. Now, I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that one elder’s interpretation of a elder is–shall we say–limited by their own experience. Still, I didn’t, for a minute, think this elder was embellishing or deceiving in his take on what happened in the meeting.
I’ve seen it happen too many times. But it still surprises me how thick-headed, cock-sure, and completely blind to our own spiritual blind spots Christians can be. Myself included. Especially myself. Yeah. How can someone who prays earnestly as a committed and otherwise mature Christian just not see that I’m right and they are wrong. I mean honestly.
Blind spots. We all have them. It’s either hard-wired in us or the result of the Fall of Adam depending on who you ask.
Scientists actually study why we can’t see our own biases. From the abstract of a fairly recent paper on bias.
Human judgment and decision making is distorted by an array of cognitive, perceptual, and motivational biases. This research concerns recent evidence that people are quite capable of recognizing the operation of bias in human judgment – except when that bias is their own.
Seems that there are two reasons for this these scientists have discovered. The first is that when assessing other people’s judgment we rely purely on what they do as data and then assign bias. However when assessing our own biases, we rely on our internal musings and then conclude, more often than not, we are not the victim of bias. Never mind that many of these biases operate unconsciously or whatever. We are sure we aren’t victims of it. So there literally are different rules for self-examination rather than the examination of others. Sound familiar?
It gets worse.
In the psychological study mentioned above, after being confronted with their own biases and educated on how biases affect our judgment, subjects then used other biases they just got schooled on to rationalize their own judgments and explain how others must be more biased than they.
Lord, what fools these mortals be.
C.S. Lewis gives us his spiritual theory of psychology in the Screwtape Letters. In letter 3, Screwtape the senior devil gives Wormwood his junior some advice about Christian self-examination of our own faults:
You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.
Wow. Screwtape’s got me pegged. Because I am fallen, I can be phenomenally self-deceptive about my own worst vices. I will make up my mind and then twist reason into a pretzel to justify what I’ve already decided. It takes a community of trusted people, people I trust to keep me pointed closer to the godly truth beyond my ego, to point out my flaws. My church family. Not just the ones in Quincy where I live but every believer I let behind my barriers. That’s what family is for. Especially marriage. Having been married almost 14 years now. I think I might be just beginning to get what its like to live with me. God bless my wife and kids.
I’ll end with some of the scariest words Jesus says. John 3:20-21.
Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
The only one who can overcome our fallen nature and make us more than merely human. This is self-examination and surrender. We get on our knees and we brave the searing light of the Spirit. Show me Lord my blind spots. As David says in Psalm 26:
Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind;
A spiritual process that is not pleasant but definitely necessary.Ω
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