Friday, July 01, 2011

Why We Lie to Ourselves 

I remember when I first heard about a woman preferring a scale that was inaccurate, that told her she was five pounds lighter. She knew it was probably inaccurate, but liked it better anyway. I thought that this was an incredibly vain and ridiculous way to think. I can understand wishing you were five pounds lighter than you are. But what good is it to lie to yourself about it? That's just stupid, and doesn't accomplish anything.

Several years ago I decided I needed to start doing a much better job of tracking my finances. So I opened a spreadsheet and listed all the various items I spend money on, along with estimates of how much I spent. The first time I did this, I saw that I really should have plenty of money left over at the end of the month, but reality was that we were losing ground financially, not gaining (why the exercise what necessary in the first place). When I looked at the spreadsheet again, it was clear that I had lowballed a number of items and left some items off altogether. Further, it was a real mental battle to get that budget accurate. I kept lying to myself. I'd tell myself, well, that isn't a very big expense, or we usually don't spend that much on that, or things like that. I realized that I was lying to myself just like the woman preferring the scale that put her weight at five pounds less.

Why do we lie to ourselves? When you study the prophets in the Old Testament or the apostles in the New, you run into this phenomenon all the time. People prefer the prophets and the teachers that tell them what they want to hear. Ahab threw Micaiah in the dungeon not because he didn't believe Micaiah was telling him the truth, but because Micaiah always gave him bad news.

In Micah 3, Micah describes the false prophets like snakes who bite while they prophesy "peace". They pronounce "shalom", a very pleasing prophesy, on those who feed them.

We lie to ourselves in so many ways. Sin always involves lying, for sin always involves convincing yourself that you will be happier by following your desires rather than God's law. We convince ourselves that we can somehow escape the destructive effects of sin. We convince ourselves that God doesn't really care that much. We convince ourselves that we're not as bad as other people and that surely ought to count for something.

Our churches are full of teachers who think that what matters is that their teachings have the desired outcome, make people feel better and make them act better. They convince themselves that if they massage the message, soften some parts of it, that their churches will grow. Whether the message is strictly "true" or not is not really the point. What is truth? they say, together with Pontius Pilate, another man more concerned with a desirable outcome than with faithfulness to the truth. And if their churches grow, that is proof that God favors what they are doing. How could God be against full churches? But the false prophets of the Old Testament and the false teachers of the new usually had much bigger audiences than the true ones.

In the Garden of Eden, the Devil (a liar from the beginning) convinced Adam and Eve to believe the most destructive lie of all, the lie that they could be like God, knowing good and evil, if they disobeyed God's commands and took matters into their own hands. In our fallen state, we are doomed to continue believing pleasing but self-destructive lies.

Jesus said that if we abide in His word, we will be His disciples. And we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free.

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