What is the power of self-justification?
Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes. And maybe self-justification. Have you noticed it makes a snapping sound? Arraignment, trial, and verdict in a nanosecond, or less. First feeling as merely impulse. But then it discovers and covers its tracks, pushing down and out. From single cell to metastasis. Self at center. A strange fight for life.
And why does self-justification also feel so heavy? Like being layered over with rubble. Pressing air out of the lungs. A collapsing. A disappearance into oneself. The feeling of moving deeper into foolishness, all while knowing one is being a fool. And the estrangement from those near. A universal knowing, amplified by a personal yet seemingly unavoidable knowing. A very common death. A pathology of self-justification.
But let’s leave that lighter topic and move on to the Prodigal Son. Have you heard of him? Well, get thee to an online Bible and check this out. You’ll survive. Besides, you’re there in your room by yourself. And God knows you look at a lot of other stuff in there that you don’t want anyone to know about.
The son says to his dad, “I want what I have coming to me.” And his father grants it. The son takes his inheritance and goes into another country where he squanders it in “loose living.” His circumstances go south, and he begins to “be in want.” So he attaches himself to a farmer who sends him out to feed the pigs. And there he is. Everything he had is gone. And then we encounter four of the most mundane words in the English language, which when strung together create arguably the most powerful phrase in all of biblical literature: “He came to himself.” Do you know what that means? The eternal pivot.
But then follows the grand and most marvelous scandal — his dad welcomes him home. He was a complete scumbag, and his father receives him back. No, he doesn’t merely receive him… he celebrates his son’s return with a major party, breaking several cultural laws in the process by going out of his way to welcome home his profligate son. A pivot that leads to life.
Is it possible that most self-justification is simply an expression of “what I have coming to me”? Do you think that the sooner one becomes dissolute, the sooner one will become resolute? (That is, if he lives long enough to shift gears?) Is it our junior varsity desires that lead us away from God, and our varsity longings that lead us back to God? Where and when does a man’s pride betray him? And when does a boy become a man who becomes a boy enough to admit it? And will we ever look outside of ourselves for a remedy for self-justification? How much can you carry, my friend? It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? A long and burdensome journey.
Do you fear the pivot?