You already know this, right? But you should never trust the “holiness” of anyone who is loudly “holy.”
According to recent news reports, a treasure trove of “intelligence” information is not the only thing Osama bin Laden had locked up in his hideout in Pakistan; he also had stacked up a serious stash of pornography.
Now, I know “holy” is not the first word that comes to mind when most of us think of Osama bin Laden, but he surely liked for his followers to think of him in exactly those terms. (I don’t mean wide-eyed and drooling; I mean “holy.”) Arrogant and ruthless self-righteousness is the same disease whether it afflicts Taliban terrorists, militant Puritans, or stinky Pharisees, whenever and wherever they’re found.
Anytime any of us begins to think that he/she is better than someone else morally or spiritually, Satan is pleased, and we’re in danger. We all fall to that temptation, probably often, and that’s a serious problem.
But it’s a very acute problem when two factors come together: 1) a person is sure he/she is holier than almost anyone else, and 2) he/she is unusually and obnoxiously loud about it. Then I think you can be very sure of one thing: they are not holier than others; and pretty darn sure of another: some fairly scandalous bit of “unholiness” is floating not that far down somewhere beneath the surface. Sooner or later, it will turn up in all its ugliness.
The pompous puritanical terror of “righteousness” has a bottle problem. The fellow most willing to “cast the first stone” at a “loose” woman has a mistress on the side. The guy most willing to beat the daylights out of folks with his supposedly vast Bible knowledge also beats his wife.
Count on it: folks who are loud about being better than ordinary folks are not better than other people and are generally a good bit worse. “Goodness” that is genuine never claims to be good; the real thing is quiet, well aware that it has no business and no time to focus on the faults of others.
Of course, Jesus said it best: before we worry about getting the speck of sawdust out of our neighbor’s eye, we first need to work on getting the log out of our own.
Ah, but self-righteousness gets its hooks into us in so many ways. It poisons a person who would never miss a church service but just as surely never misses an opportunity to look down his nose at others. But it’s just as deadly, if not quite as insidious, in the soul of a person who is self-righteous about not darkening the door of a church lest he be self-righteous.
If we really want to love God we can never trust Him enough, and we can never be suspicious enough of ourselves and our own motives. After all, we’re warned in Scripture that the one who is most sure he is standing firm is the most likely of all to fall.
Folks who truly want to be like their Father are never loud about being “good.” They know two things for sure: only God is good, and they are not.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org