Righteousness and Self-Righteousness

There is nothing worse than the self-made man or woman who worships his or her creator. (Think about it.) Not far behind come those who mistake self-righteousness for the real thing: the righteousness given by God. The self-righteous (and we can all be self-righteous at times) are cruelly self-deceived — deaf, blind and inclined to be hard on others. They make magnificent assumptions about themselves and others. The fact that I was born into this particular family, went to that school or am a member of such and such a Church means that I am sure of success in this life and salvation in the next. I am, so to say, untouchable; and if I deign to notice you, it will be merely to compare and contrast my superior status with your inferiority. And to all that, Isaiah says the equivalent of ‘poppycock’.

The truth is, we none of us have anything that was not given, and given on trust. But for the gifts and graces we have received to bear fruit, we need a teacher. We have to learn how to be honest, kind, generous to those less fortunate. We do not necessarily know by instinct the right thing to do in any and every situation. We have to apply principles, tests, work things out for ourselves, make mistakes, start afresh, fail; and often we learn more from ‘the bread of suffering and the water of distress’ (Isaiah 30.20) than we do from being at ease and enjoying a life of plenty.

The teacher of whom Isaiah speaks we recognize in Jesus. We think of him as a great healer, a miracle-worker, compassion personified. We sometimes forget that he could be severe and challenging, too. One of my own private heresies is that on the day of judgement we shall look into the eyes of Christ and see mirrored there what he sees in us. Let us pray that, before that moment comes, we shall have learned to become like him. Then will our moonlight shine seven times brighter than the sun. (Isaiah 30.26)

Today is the feast of St Ambrose. You can read more about him here or do a search in the sidebar for previous posts about him.


4 thoughts on “Righteousness and Self-Righteousness”

  1. I suspect that to some extent, your words echo in each of us. Perhaps I was fortunate in not being born into a particular family and I went to schools in East London, which couldn’t be described as ones that provide a social status, although they provided a semi-adequate education which allowed me to leave school (without qualifications) but to find a humble job as a Post Officer Messenger (Telegram Boy) before joining the Army. There, I quickly learned that the person you thought that you were – is broken down into parts and than put back together in a different arrangement. One that prepares you for life in a risky, sometimes exciting, sometimes mundane occupation, but with a sense of self, an integrity and self discipline, which allows you to cope with most things that are thrown (or fired) at you.
    It builds in aspects of team work, self reliance, but also reliance on others, living in close, mutually supporting communities. An environment where it’s “all found” so to speak from clothing, food, accommodation and even social activities among your own kind.

    To some extent it can be isolating you from the life outside as you live in the cocoon of a “patriarchal” society, (does this reflect life in a monastic community?) where obedience to orders, discipline is melded with the ability to think and act quickly and to answer 7 questions before you do anything, the nucleus of the 7 questions is the “So What” factor. In other words, what are the consequences of adopting a certain course of action, many of those decisions are moral ones as you consider the effect of your actions on perhaps vulnerable civilian populations as well as a potential enemy.

    Off course, the other side of the coin is that impact that these experiences can have on your personality, psyche and behaviour, which might make a return to civilian life a bit of a disaster (the prevalence of PSTD in returning veterans) as you try to adjust to a much more uncertain existence in what can be a pretty secular, individualistic, consumerist society.

    The thing that I take from my return to civilian life in 2009 is a real sense that my Army life was a vocation for it’s time that had come to a natural end (at 60 you’re basically past it and have to retire) so what next? For many others, their career ends at 40 or even earlier now that large scale military cutbacks are underway.
    The Army had been good to me, it had educated me, it had given me many transferable skills and experience of wide areas of employment from logistics, administration, human resources, finance and accounting, down to stuff like business continuity and emergency planning – all virtually redundant, but a framework for some future role to be developed.
    But now, I was on my own.

    Fortunately, for me I had a solid base of my faith and spouse and family to sustain me and a Church community to be in and to explore this relatively newly restored faith in God. Whether that faith is righteous or self- righteous is one for God to judge, but hopefully my life experience has given me a perspective of humility that keeps me on track as a disciple as I seek to spend what time might be left discerning what more I may be able to do to serve others – and all the signs are that after some delay, my persistence is paying off as I move to a new parish with new opportunities arising. The Holy Spirit is alive and well in my life at the moment. So, Thanks be to God.

  2. ‘The Lord dresses the wound of his people and heals the bruises his blows have left.’ How well this describes all those moved by the Holy Spirit to deal with the recent flooding. It has been very moving to see people pulling together to help each other through the crisis. Advent is often described as a time of waiting and waiting can seem a very static activity. Reading today’s passage from Isaiah, I am reminded that Advent is a way to be followed. The floods have receded and although there are longterm implications for many, the emergency work is done. For us it is time to move on in the steady journey towards Christmas. ‘This is the way, follow it.’

  3. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could ALL follow that.
    I have this last week been in the company of the good and the great (or so they think) and they didn’t even cast me a glance. I dont give a jot I used to but life has taught me many things. We were all created the same way and we shall all leave this mortal earth the same way.

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