When is the last time you read the book of Job? If you haven’t done it lately open your Bible to that book and, after you’re done sneezing from the dust you just stirred up, settle down and read. “Oh, I guess you think you’re the only one whose Bible gets used!” Not really. Lighten up.
When Job was having “one of those days” on steroids his buddies took turns describing all the reasons why. If they’d been what we call secular they would have told Job he was just having a string of bad luck. But Job’s friends weren’t secular. They were believers, which is what made matters worse. Pain is amplified when your brethren seem to have forgotten how to comfort you.
There are only two kinds of righteousness; the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ and our own filthy rags, otherwise known as self-righteousness. When you run into the first you know it. You’re overwhelmed by the simplicity and genuineness of it. The second is so common that you only notice it when someone has a particularly severe case of self-righteousness over and above the average variety, or during those rare times when there’s no whiff of it anywhere and it’s like the sudden quiet when the refrigerator stops running.
Self-righteousness means that I am at the center of my world to an unhealthy degree. The more firmly you are the center of your world the more unreal or abstract other people are to you. That’s why Job’s friends diagnosed the heck out of his problem, sounded right much of the time, but were light years away from the truth, which we know by God’s reaction to their words at the end of the book.
Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? – Job 38:2
They were so intent on demonstrating their understanding of God that they could not speak to the real Job; only to an abstract Job they saw far off like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. And he looked that way to them because they couldn’t identify with him. Self-righteousness created a barrier that made them feel as if they were on a different plane than Job. Sometimes people who’ve been Christians for a short time, but long enough to pick up some knowledge, are like this. I know I was guilty of it. You begin to grasp a few things and now you think you’re qualified to run around telling people how it’s done with a “concern” that is really more about glorifying your new found knowledge than about really helping somebody.
The world, for all its claims to being secular and “value free” in its judgments, is rabidly self-righteous. If life is purely secular, purely a concern of this material world, as the words and actions of our culture tell us, then why put forth as much energy as we do toward things that have an appearance of caring about our well-being? After all, if all things are strictly and purely material from start to finish then would not survival of the fittest as it is in the animal world be the correct way to go?
There are those who believe that. But the majority of secular people use secular language while acting from religious impulses just as some Christians use religious language but act from secular impulses. The religious concern of the secular is overwhelming. Because it is really self-righteousness you will find none of the simple, genuine and healing qualities of Jesus’ righteousness in it. Instead you find endless and complicated rules that appear to care for everything down to rare species of birds or insects while the most obvious need of fellow human beings are completely ignored. These days you may not hear about the deaths or abuse of certain people, especially if they are poor. But let someone abuse a dog and, as one song used to say, it’s Hammer time!
In an appearance of great concern for the “consumer” (a term I despise) we have labels that tell us the caloric and fat content of bottled water. The same label may tell you the water comes from a particular spring when it didn’t. So the same label lies to you while it pretends to be concerned for your health by letting you know about fat and calorie count in a substance we all know beforehand has none. This is just a very small example of countless and more spectacular ones.
That is the essence of self-righteousness. That is its true color. Self-righteousness tries to mimic God’s caring, but in reality it is the naked and aggressive manifestation of the Adamic nature as it begins throwing off all its disguises. It is wicked. As such the mercies that self-righteousness imposes on us for its own glorification are actually cruelties.
A righteous man regards the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. – Prov. 12:10
Today’s animal rights activists regard the life of every beast. But they mainly regard yours only if you’re ready to give a donation.
So, the more self-righteousness takes over the more rules and penalties and lessening of freedom you will see. That’s because in essence self-righteousness is the battle of one god fighting against another, each trying with all that is in them to establish themselves as god. It doesn’t matter how many lives or anything else that are destroyed in the process. All that matters is that the god expends all his or her energy, like salmon leaping upstream to spawn, stamping their image on everything and everyone. Self-righteousness is the language of suicide.
What is to be done? That would be the subject of a whole other write. Yet, briefly, there are truths we can look to.
A little leaven leavens the whole lump. – Gal. 5:9
It doesn’t take mass movements, the passing of sophisticated legislation or the election of the “right person”, whoever that mythical person is. It takes a little Christian leaven, which obviously tells us that a lot of what is out there has the name but not the power. It also tells us that a little of what is genuine makes up for a whole lot of what isn’t.
It’s within the power of all of us to make sure that our personal conduct has the effect of leaven in comparison to those around us who run downhill with self-righteousness. That we must do. We are the only living damns to hold back the flood of self-righteousness. If we don’t take that seriously by studying and focusing to make sure our righteousness is really that of Christ’s and not our own, we only become one more version of Job’s friends, always ready with advice and phony healing that has nothing to do with the real problem.
The world is making our environment one in which there’s no place to run from Job’s friends. Such a world offers constant vexation of spirit and no rest. This ought not to be so.
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