The Art Of Self Delusion
Chan Gin Kai
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people— robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
We are easily manipulated and deluded, especially if the deceiver is ourselves.
Want to feel rich and blessed? Compare ourselves with the homeless, hungry and poor. Want to feel like life is unfair? Compare ourselves with those who don’t study but get good results, don’t work hard but get the promotion, don’t exercise but maintain a slim figure.
You get the drift. We can delude ourselves, and even manipulate our own feelings. By choosing who we compare ourselves with, we can feel smart or stupid, lucky or unfortunate, rich or poor. We can even feel righteous and deserving, or wallow in a self-piteous pit of unworthiness.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
Making comparisons is one of the deceitful things that our hearts do.
That’s what the Pharisee in the parable did.
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people —robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector.” The Pharisee compared the good he did with the bad that others do. He even framed it like a thanksgiving towards God just to sound more righteous.
He named two good things that he did in his prayer. I am surprised that he didn’t rattle off a longer list of righteous accomplishments. But really, by choosing to compare himself with the “worst”, he only needed two good things to feel smug.
I have to confess that I self-righteously compare myself with others too. There are times when pride overcomes me and I compare achievements to bask in victories. There are times insecurity creeps in and I grasp at comparisons to reassure myself. There are times I fall into sin, and I make comparisons to justify my behaviour. Am I the only one who has done that?
Comparisons, by nature, focus our eyes on the surface, on what we can easily see. We tend to compare what we have, and what we’ve achieved. When we stop comparing ourselves with others, we free ourselves to look much deeper. We get a more honest picture of who we are.
The tax collector, on the other hand, did not compare himself with anyone “better” or “worse”. That freed him to really examine his heart. He saw who he was, a sinner. And he realised what he needed, God’s mercy.
That’s what we’ll realise too, if we stop comparing ourselves with others, and compare ourselves with God.
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
We should compare our lives with the examples that God and Jesus have set. It is only when we change our selfish ways and “walk in the way of love” that we can become a fragrant offering to God.
When we stop deluding ourselves with fake images of who we are, we can truly come before God and build an honest relationship with Him. We may be fooled by ourselves, but God isn’t. He loves and accepts us, sins, warts and all. Let’s turn to our loving Father.
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. He serves actively in the Central Christian Church and describes himself as “just a sinner who wants to get right with God”.