confessions of a pharisee

“I thank you God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else.  For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery.  I’m certainly not like that tax collector!  I fast twice a week and I give you a tenth of my income.”

In my lifetime I’ve come across a couple of people I don’t like.  Alright, alright, more than a couple.  Let me grab my shrink (a preemptive “sorry” to the psychologists in the audience; don’t leave mean comments) hat and analyze me.  Figure out why.


The bullies are easy; the boys who terrorized me with bodily harm in elementary and middle school.  The ridicule was tolerable but the idea of a beating or worse…  OK, didn’t even need the shrink hat for that one.
I didn’t like…, I’ll call him Stanley–the guy I worked beside who mocked the faith that he said I didn’t possess anyway (he was right).  He gave me other reasons to despise him: like opening his window when it was 20 degrees outside (I’m kinda cold-blooded).

I didn’t like a college classmate who was pompous and brazen.  “Look at me, look at me!”  I wanted to say, “Watch out you don’t break your arm!”

At church, I don’t like…  Ha, ha. 

Do you have people who rub you the wrong way?  When I do I usually justify myself, reasoning, who wouldn’t dislike this person?  She’s got an abrasive personality, or is unreliable, or is critical, or he’s overly sensitive, or too loud, or too quiet, or has sinned against me, or is two-faced, or is vulgar, or…


I was confident no one could recognize any inner animosity I had toward them.  Hating the conflict that tends to show up when a person levels with someone (“Hey, has anyone ever told you that you’re about as dependable as a snowman in June?”), I mastered the art of appearing warm and friendly to all people–even those I didn’t care for.  “I don’t love you, but here’s a smile for you anyway!”

Yet I was troubled every time I read something in the Bible like “be devoted to one another in love” or “love your neighbor as yourself” or “bear with one another in love”.  I’d reason, “OK, I love this Christian brother or sister, but God doesn’t say I have to like him or her.”  I may have been reasoning, but I no longer think it was sound reasoning.  Since love is a deeper and more selfless regard than like, how can I possibly love someone I don’t at least like?

I don’t have time to write what all God did over time–and is doing (the remodeling’s a long way from being completed).  And this story would probably be more fascinating and coherent if it began at a moment in time, if I had some epiphany, some “ah-hah!” moment.  Instead, it’s been a slow and subtle awakening, something happening over several years.  In stirring up a new passion in me for the gospel, God frequently reminded me of Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18.  I came to see that by my dislike of others (no matter why), I was the smug, self-righteous Pharisee congratulating myself for not being as bad as him or her.  It wasn’t that I didn’t believe I had faults; at least about some, I was painfully aware.  But suspicions began growing that disliking someone because of their faults may not be “normal”, not ok, not understandable even though wrong…, maybe it’s self-righteous.  Maybe behind my justifications is a conviction that what is wrong with me is not as bad as what is wrong with him.  That my faults are not as destructive as his are, my sins not as offensive to others and God as his are.

The pride of self-righteousness.  10 years ago it wasn’t a sin I would have thought made God’s top 10.  Nor thought it applied to me.  Now I’m convinced it’s in God’s top 3.  And the hidden root when I do not love someone.  It interferes–not just with me being kind, but genuinely loving that other person.  Someone has said that we don’t make great progress in sanctification until we begin to see the depth of our sinfulness.  Spot on.  I’m a mess.  And only the grace of Jesus Christ working in my heart through the Holy Spirit, offers hope.