Suffering From Self-DeceptionFr. Barnabas Powell
Christ is risen!
Soren Kierkegaard, that mournful Danish theologian, once said “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
For me, I find the most difficult deceptions to fight are the ones I tell to myself. It’s easy to spot errors in others, and it seems that we actually excel in correcting the mistakes and untruths in our friends, family, and neighbors. But we struggle in confronting the lies we tell ourselves. It turns out that overcoming our own self-deception is absolutely critical to becoming a true follower of Jesus Christ.
Look at our lesson today in John 8:42-51:
The Lord said to the Jews who came to him, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I have not a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it and he will be the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, he will never see death.”
Jesus is once again confronting the people who should be most free of self-deception and yet they are damningly gripped by a deep self-delusion that poisons not just their lives but affects the lives of those they are called to lead as well. And the reasons for their self-deception illuminate the way out of the lies we tell ourselves.
First, they are deceived because they are disconnected. One of the most powerful revelations of the Christian Faith is that intimacy creates true knowledge. Knowing about something or someone can feed the self-deception that I really know God. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found my own life gripped by self-deception precisely because I was depending on all the facts I’d learned about the Faith. It is intimacy with God primarily in prayer and worship that overcomes the deception that it is enough to “know about” God. It isn’t, and these religious leaders of the Lord’s day were being confronted with this source of their self-deception.
Next, they are deceived because they are enslaved. Jesus speaks the painful and difficult truth to these religious leaders by telling them they are intimate with the devil and not God, the Father. Because they are enslaved by their self-deception, they find it easy and natural to believe the lie of the Prince of lies, the devil. And that enslavement always leads to spiritual death. When I find myself squirming in my seat while someone tells me a hard truth, I now know that this is the precipice of deception. I have a choice in that critical moment. Will I embrace this hard truth and live, or will I slink away into the deeper “death” of self-deception?
Finally, they are deceived because they reject. These religious leaders cannot believe their own eyes when they see the Lord doing good. They have to lie to convict Him of wrongdoing. And, in doing that, they reveal their true allegiance is to themselves and not God. When I am blinded by self-deception, I can’t see the good and only see a threat to my power or status or authority. That always leads to the clear and obvious truth – that I am not a follower of Jesus Christ. Lord, have mercy.
Today, are you suffering from self-deception? Is this causing you to be blind to the truth? You can escape this slavery! But it will require a willingness to abandon the ego-driven pride of self-righteousness for the humble embrace of being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, You are The Way, The Truth, and The Life. I am so prone to self-deception that I can’t even recognize when I’m lying to myself! I need You to search my heart and show me where I am still enslaved to false ideas about myself and others. And then I need You to give me the strength to repent so that my thoughts and thinking can be re-oriented in Your direction. Please forgive me for my stumbles and grant me the attentiveness today to embrace You as the only Guide I need out of the land of lies. Amen.