by David Browder
Self-righteousness is the greatest problem we face. I really have come to believe that as I’ve studied and thought through the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector over this past week. I believe that if you think about it, you’ll find this is a no-brainer, too.
Another unspeakable tragedy happened Saturday when an already volatile man was apparently pushed over the brink by a routine traffic stop. He proceeded to shoot the officers and then go on an indiscriminate shooting spree that left many dead and injured. These events seem to be occurring more and more frequently — and they are absolutely horrifying.
This terrible event raises many questions for us to consider:
- Mental illness for sure.
- The guy was federally banned from owning a firearm. How did he get it?
- How does a man get to the point that he is willing to do this to his fellow man?
- With abortion commonplace and euthanasia gaining adherents, how much value has human life still have?
- Have we elevated the free market to ultimate status, reducing our human essence to nothing more than producers and consumers?
- What about fatherlessness in society?
- What about the struggle boys and men seem to be in these days?
- In a state that allows open and concealed carry of firearms, why wasn’t someone able to stop him?
- As long as we’re talking about violence how about gang and drug violence? (You don’t hear much about that anymore, even though the vast majority of violent deaths stem from those kinds of violence).
- Is it time the church takes personal, supernatural evil seriously again? (The answer is “yes” to that one).
How many more questions are there? I’ll bet we could all come up with hundreds. Here’s the problem: I’ll bet at least one of those questions made you angry. I’m personally uncomfortable with a couple of them myself. The easy thing for me to do when I’m angry about something like that is to simply retreat to my tribal associations and groupthink. I do that a lot — and I always regret it. It is an easy alternative to thinking about difficult subjects.
Here’s why retreating into tribal associations and groupthink is so compelling: it makes me feel better to know I’m right and whoever is opposed to me is not only wrong but probably is also an idiot and may even be malicious. That is self-righteousness and we see it in spades in the aftermath of tragic events like these. Make no mistake: the language and expressions we use in the assertion of our self-righteousness is religious language. And, unfortunately, it’s also presidential primary season so we exacerbate all of this to unbearable levels.
This is where I believe the Christian community can be a shining witness. Instead of the Pharisee saying to God, “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like this Republican or this Democrat, evil and depraved in his or her intent,” we can instead take the place of the tax collector who said to God, eyes cast down, “God have mercy upon me a sinner.” God, have mercy upon me for not listening to good faith people who disagree with me. God, have mercy upon me for not even allowing myself to think about a good faith idea or concern that comes from another tribe.
The Role of Christians
If Christians who disagree about the causes of violence (and about many other difficult issues) can speak together in humility and with a desire to learn, we can ask and think through big questions. The humility of a sinner saved by grace going in to speak with other sinners saved by grace is fertile ground for tackling difficult issues. We can then be as firm as we need (or want) to be in our opinions as long as we are open — without agenda — to being wrong about some things (or maybe about a lot of things). It is truly a place the Christian church can become relevant once more. It all begins with the prayer of a tax collector: “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” That is the ultimate antidote to self-righteousness and the beginning of endless possibilities.