Thursday, June 16, 2005

Losing face

The Bible calls us to humility, and sometimes that humility requires us to admit when we have been wrong. That can be difficult, especially if the nature of our wrong has been very public.

We don't want to lose face. We don't want to lose credibility.

The bottom line is that it wounds our pride to admit that our words and actions have been wrong. It is too easy to allow stubbornness to set root in our lives and to cling to our wrongheadedness all the more tenaciously, digging ourselves in deeper and deeper.

Some of us have no doubt been in the position of trying to live out Matthew 18 with a fellow believer, only to have that person argue with us, denying the wrongness of their actions. "Yes, but..." they will say. They will deny obvious facts. They will claim that everyone else is lying. They will accuse others of sin. They will be so invested in their wrongness that they will refuse to acknowledge any evidence for another viewpoint.

Then there are those Christians whose relationship to Christ matters so much to them that they are willing to risk brokenness, loss of face, loss of credibility, loss of reputation --- anything --- in order to repent before God and before those who have been effected by their actions or words.

There are godly, courageous pastors who have admitted that their previous theological stances were faulty and who have repented before their congregations. I once received a letter from a pastor who apologized to members of his congregation for situations that he had mis-handled while in a lesser staff position at that church. There are other people that I know who have admitted, sometimes painfully, about being wrong, about espousing something that was false, about doing things that were wrong.

It takes humility to recognize when we are wrong; it takes even more humility to point out our wrongness to others and admit it before the world.

Not everyone is up to the task.

The problem is that, while we are struggling so much to save face and to cling to our credibility, the watching world is often way ahead of us and knows our failings and mistakes full well. Our children, for example, are often far too well aware when we have behaved wrongly. Our failure to admit this openly undermines our credibility far more than a humble apology would.

But what if there is more at stake? What if all that the public knows about us is the position we have taken? What if we have built up a following around what we have said and done? How can we now say, "We were wrong. Sorry." All would be in shambles. There would be no following. The good work we have been trying to do would be destroyed.

Repentance costs.

But the rewards, even if only in the next life, are well worth it. And who is to say that God cannot build something better in our lives as a result of our repentance, of our honest admissions of being wrong? Do we really think God is going to honor a stubborn clinging to what is not true?

All this swirled through my head this morning as I read Schiavo's Parents Not Swayed by Autopsy, which said in part:

An autopsy that found Terri Schiavo suffered from severe and irreversible brain-damage has done nothing to sway her parents' position that she deserved to live and may have gotten better with therapy.

The long-awaited report Wednesday found Schiavo's brain had shrunk to about half the normal size for a woman her age when she died March 31 after her feeding tube was disconnected. The autopsy also determined she was blind.

Bob and Mary Schindler disputed the results, insisting their daughter interacted with them and tried to speak. Their attorney said the family plans to discuss the autopsy with other medical experts and may take some unspecified legal action.

My grandfather used to warn us about the dangers of not being entirely accurate with the truth and of clinging too stubbornly to our own viewpoint. After we tell ourselves something often enough, he would warn us, especially if it is something that may not be true, we will finally convince ourselves that it has to be true. And then we will be unable to recognize what is true.

Wanting something to be true doesn't make it true, he would warn us. There was even someone who was a living cautionary tale in our lives, a man of whom my grandfather would say, "After he repeats a lie three times, he has finally convinced himself."

1 comment:

  1. "Their attorney said the family plans to discuss the autopsy with other medical experts and may take some unspecified legal action."

    Against who, the coroner? What nonsense.