Why Won’t We Admit the Evil of Our Deeds?

When I began Beliefs of the Heart, a friend suggested I adopt a Comment Policy. His site already had one, and I copied his almost word for word. The short version is: Keep comments short and sweet.

In the last seven years, about five thousand comments have been posted. Out of those five thousand comments, I have only deleted five, from four different people.

  • I deleted one comment because it was an advertisement for Ray Ban Sunglasses that had somehow eluded my spam filter.
  • I deleted two comments that were twice as long as the article itself. In both situations, I sent the readers a copy of their remarks with suggestions for making their comments punchier. Both readers edited and reposted excellent comments.
  • I also deleted two different comments from one reader because they were nasty. She called one reader a “moron with an elbow for a brain,” and she bullied another commenter, saying, “Why don’t you include your full name, you coward, so I can post it on Facebook and show the world what a fool you are.”

When I contacted her to explain my reasons for deleting her comments, she replied, “Are your readers so thin-skinned that they cannot handle a little honest criticism?”

She Couldn’t Admit Her Fault

When this woman posted her comments, she included her blog address, and I checked it out. A month earlier she had written an article on the “toxicity of the internet.”

Her article said that people behave badly in many places: “Humans act with hostility everywhere, in bars and churches and airports and their own kitchens.” But she added, “The anonymity of the internet seems to draw out our worst possible denigrations. We mingle constructive criticism with bullying, oppression, mud-slinging, and verbal-violence.”

She ended her article with this hope: “Let’s create safe environments for meaningful dialogue between people who disagree.”

I emailed her again, complimenting her on the toxicity article. I also asked (I hope graciously) how she reconciled her article with publicly berating one reader as a “moron” and taunting another reader with threats of public exposure.

She responded with one sentence: “How dare you question my heart, integrity, or intentions!”

It’s So Obvious

I deleted those comments five years ago, and I’ve wanted to write about it ever since. But something about the interchange nagged at me. I wondered, How could someone be so oblivious to their own hypocrisy? A few weeks ago, a friend posted this quote on Facebook:

Truly it is an evil to be full of faults; but it is a greater evil to be full of them and unwilling to recognize them, since that is to add the further fault of a voluntary illusion. (Blaise Pascal)

I immediately knew what haunted me about my interchange with the nasty comment writer: she was a mirror of myself. It is so easy to find faults in others while ignoring my own, to spot the specs in their eyes while bumbling around with a log in my own, to preach without practice.

So many faults seem so obvious. I can find myself almost gloating with glee as I catalogue them. But what about my faults, my harshness, my criticism? Am I willing to be as honest with myself?

Only God has full knowledge of the hearts and stories of others, and only God has the wisdom to judge wisely. When I read Pascal’s quote, I felt God graciously but firmly speak to me.

He said, “Sam, Get off my throne.”

Sam

P. S. God made us to hear his voice, and even when he speaks a conviction, it brings great joy. Thomas à Kempis once wrote:

When Jesus does not speak within, all other comfort is empty, but if He speaks only a word, it brings great consolation. (Imitation of Christ)

To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in ConversationAfter all, it is not that God is silent; we just haven’t learned to recognize his voice.

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What do YOU think?

14 thoughts on “Why Won’t We Admit the Evil of Our Deeds?

  1. Hi Sam. Don’t you think that sometimes we don’t know ourselves? Like you said, we are oblivious to our own faults. But the good news is our God can open our eyes to ourselves. Then once we see clearly where we are, we then can surrender and allow Him to walk with us . And believe that He gives us the power to make the needed changes.

    • Hi Susan,

      Yes, I absolutely think we don’t know ourselves. And it usually cuts both ways. We don’t know the good influences we bring to the world, and we usually fail to admit our weaknesses. It’s one of the reasons we need really good friends: ones who encourage us by pointing out the good influence we bring (which we think is so ordinary that we don’t notice it), and good friends who can graciously help us see our failures (it’s hard to find such gracious friends.)

      I also wonder if the self-esteem movement has infected us with the inability to be humble. We somehow fear it. Yet God LOVES the poor in spirit. And he loves to help the poor and needy (which we all are).

      Thanks so much for your comment.

  2. Hello Sam, this is Kim Phillips husband Larry. I had the pleasure of meeting you while helping Kim clean when I was laid off years back. I just want to say that there is no doubt in my mind that the Holy Spirit is using you. I am pleased to read your articles. This one is right on the mark. My whole life I’ve seen people sin against God in horrible ways. What bothers me most are the close family members and Christians in my life that hurt others and act as if they’ve done nothing wrong. I am not saying I’m perfect and do no wrong. I am a sinner saved by Jesus! However, I’m always quick to admit when I do wrong. Especially when I have done something against another person. I confess to God and to the one that I offended. The Bible tells in James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Why is it that so many people that call themselves Christians don’t live by this. Confessing our sins and praying for one another will heal us. Why do so many want to hide their sin? When all we have to do is confess to be healed. I know very few Christians that are actually transparent. Do people not realize that God sees ALL our sins? Do they not know that NO sin will enter Heaven? What about the conviction of the Holy Spirit? Then we have the consequences of our sin. It’s as if people don’t think that they will actually have consequences from their actions. It really saddenes me when I know that a persons sinning against God and they don’t feel conviction. I don’t see or hear of any repentance from most of these people. Does anyone even know what that means to repent? They don’t have a fear of God! How sad is that? I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s good to know that others like yourself actually understand these simple things. I’m sorry I’m venting here Sam. It’s just that I take my Fathers word seriously. It feels like most people want a Burger King god where they can have it their way. As if God is going to bend the rules for them or something. My prayer is that God opens the eyes of His people and they begin to look inwardly instead of out. And I also pray for the exposure of sin so that it can be destroyed so that people will be able to live their life the way God wants them to.

    • Hi Larry,

      I think you captured it with the commandment to confess: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

      This requires a humility and self-examination. And we are much too busy examining everyone else!

      Thanks

  3. Thank you, Sam. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a devout Orthodox Christian, wrote: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Denial of our own sin is so pervasive in us, and is even embedded in some dubiously Christian theology and hymns (“ONCE I was a sinner”, etc.). The early Church affirmed that it was a greater miracle to see one’s own sins than to raise the dead – and It had experience of both! And of course, one of the reasons we know our sins so poorly is due to the mercy of God, who hides the depth of our brokenness from us because we wouldn’t be able to survive the self-knowledge, at least right now. How many of the greatest saints have proclaimed with St. Paul “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the greatest”. This attitude wasn’t made up of neurotic self-loathing, but awe at the love of Jesus. We see ourselves best when we look to Christ..

    St. James exhorts us: “Confess your sins TO ONE ANOTHER… that you may be healed”; I am convinced that the accountability in “speaking out” the sins we *do* know in front of a witness to our confession to God is a great help in recognizing the depth of our sins, and their effect on ourselves and others. As we come to know and trust the mercy of Jesus more concretely, our spiritual intuition grows, and we can begin to “sniff” that something is not smelling quite right in our lives! (At least, this is how it seems to work, all too often, with me!)

    I agree with you about the negative aspects of the sometimes rather secular “self-esteem” preoccupation. Perhaps humility is found more in self-acceptance – an as-honest-as-possible recognition that we are a very mixed bag of gifts, virtues, deficits and vices, reflecting His glory and needing His Grace.

    Forgive me! This is almost undoubtedly one of those “too-long” posts you will need to delete! 🙂

    • Hi Fr. Michael,

      Not too long at all, and filled with great thoughts.

      I’ll tell you the humble thought that radically objects to the modern confessions of this world; it’s your Solzhenitsyn quote: “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

      It’s much more fun to look out there that in here.

      Thanks

  4. One of the spiritual disciplines suggested by the folks at Renovare comes out of the “holiness” tradition: Ask the Holy Spirit to set a guard before your lips and speak no criticism or negative words for 24 hours. I’ve yet to make it for a full 24 hours. It’s a great mirror…

  5. A plethora of quotes occur to me.

    Our Lord’s admonition to remove the log out of our own eye before removing the speck out of our brother’s eye

    The scene in CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce where are the mother has come on the bus ride from the Gray Town and demands of God that she be reunited with her son.

    The POV protagonist wonders aloud how he could tell her then her maternal love in its natural unredeemed estate is actually an impediment to grace.

    And George McDonald’s Spirit cautions him, “No, no, son. That’s no office of yours. You’re not a good enough man for that. When your own heart’s been broken it will be time for you to think of talking.”

    And CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters is chock full of references to the Tempter pointing out to us the sins of others while concealing our own.

    And your exhortation to brevity compels me to conclude. Peace be upon you and your household, my brother.

    • Great thoughts (and a perfect length!).

      It keeps coming back to a humbler attitude. We feel better about ourselves when we look down on others. And yet God wants to give us a new name and identity; and we only get that by letting go of our old, self-deceiving, pride.

      Thanks

  6. Sam I suspect it has something to do with the shallowness of a gospel that is nothing more than a ticket to paradise. Coupled with we are secretly all still trying to build a stairway to heaven, even as believers. We have great difficult accepting Christ’s final words of “It is Finished.” So we are still trying to finish it by making everyone think we are not just dumb clueless sheep. Most of all we think God is still taking applications for the heavenly Cirque du Soleil so we keep polishing our act. While the very polishing reveals our self-contempt and our fascination with idols. Forgetting that God told Ezekiel that they will remain under slavery until they forsake their idols, because I want their heart.

    This is the reality of coming into the light from darkness that John speaks of in 1 John 1:5-8. We have great difficulty trusting God with our hearts, so why would we trust others. I recently said to a pastor I had embarked on a journey of dealing with self-contempt. He looked at me and said to be careful about who I was peddling that on. Told another pastor friend and he said “You know people have real difficulty with self-love.” I pointed out that it is hard to picture the trinity waving fingers and flags over us, shouting, “Go! Go! Go!”, unless we come to accept that term.

    For we must come to terms with the fact that God loves us, sings over us and calls us his precious jewels, as we are, not who we want him and others to think we are. This only becomes greater reality as we move deeper than the railroad tracks of the gospel and begin to explore the benefits of being Abba’s child. Coming to terms with this allows us to speak of our failures in order to speak of the greatness of the one whose application for spiritual performer is the only one God accepted. Then closed the application process. The greater reality this becomes in our life the freer we become in our ability to experience that love has found us, broke those chains that are still binding us. Which in turn not only allows us to discover the beautiful us (Who shouldn’t love what God loves.) that is waiting to be revealed and the joy of discovering a fresh surprising beauty even in old friends, every time we meet them. Freedom is found not in hiding but in answering God’s question of “Where Are You.”

    Thanks again for wonderful words of wisdom. And feel free to delete my comment, probably too long.

    • HI Pat,

      We just continue to forget the meaning of Grace; that is, a love and mercy that is undeserved.

      It’s a lifelong pursuit, to understand he pursued us before we pursued him. We want to earn more than receive.

      Thanks be to God that he loves us, even when we keep forgetting his graceful love.

      Thanks,

      Sam

  7. The question I pose here is……if we were humble enough to expose this evil from us, wouldn’t we at least allow others to expose it gently and carefully? I say this because a leader from my church has time and time again pointed out things in me but I reluctantly squirmed to acknowledge but later realized it was what God was saying to me I just didn’t see it. But I think when we spend time with God and begin to ask where he is working in our lives and to give us eyes to see ourselves as God sees us it’s a whole new perspective of ourselves that we didn’t see before.