A communication professor of mine told us the first day of class, “You can’t lie to yourself.” He explained that when we tell ourselves something long enough, we eventually accept it and then live it as truth. We do this when we try to show satisfactory reasons or give excuses for doing something. Doing so brings us to the dangerous side of justification.
When we justify, we shape our thinking to avoid having to change our behavior. We create a reality in our minds that allows us to avoid the discomfort of growth, which involves admitting mistakes, preferring others, and being teachable, among other things. The longer we do this, the deafer we become to hearing the actual truth because we’ve created our own alternate reality, our own version of the truth, for so long.
The Pharisees did something of this sort when they refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.
“But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, ‘No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.’” (Matthew 12:24)
Of course, Jesus easily refuted their claims created to justify their unbelief, but they remained stubbornly in their own, self-created realities, ones that would allow them to stay deceptively secure in their comfort zones.
“The deadliest Pharisaism today is not hypocrisy but unconscious reality.” (Oswald Chambers)
Change or Justify?
The more I read about the Pharisees, the more I dislike doing so because I’m usually reminded of some way of thinking of my own that’s too much like theirs. This leads me to either needing to change or add another level of justification to avoid having to change.
When I don’t want to do something, say reach out to someone or admit I’m wrong, I’m very creative about why doing so isn’t necessary and even how it’s possibly detrimental in some way. In reality, these things just make me uncomfortable, so I want to find reasons — I want to justify — why I don’t need to do them. It’s really a control issue at heart, if I’m to be brutally honest with myself.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking also happens often when it comes to deciding about Jesus. Alternate realities are created where he either isn’t seen as who he is, he’s seen as a big disappointment in some way, or we just keep too busy to truly make him Lord of our lives or even think about how we might need to change our thinking.
Jesus actually calls the Pharisees’ words “idle” (Matthew 12:36). In essence, he’s saying that their attempts — and ours — at creating a false reality where we get to stay in control is really idle (i.e., of no real worth, significance, or importance) thinking. Regarding that thinking, Jesus uses justification in another way.
“The words you say now reflect your fate then, either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37)
In other words, the reality in which we choose to live either leads to the only authentic justification that exists — the kind that comes only through Jesus — or to eternal destruction. One day, every reality will be based on actual truth, God’s truth, and we’ll have no say in the creation of that reality. In fact, all our false truths will fall away. This motivates me to get my truth, the reality I choose to live by, as much in line with God’s truth as possible before time expires.