Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hypocrisy is cancer

A running sore may lie under a purple robe. -- Stephen Charnock

Last week in church I saw the above quote. I didn't like it. The notion of a running sore is disgusting. I guess that's why the quote works. We like to think ourselves something nice when our inner natures are in truth disgusting.

I own a book by Stephen Charnock. He's a cool dude. He's also been dead for a few centuries. Let's see, Mr. Google? Born 1628. I figure in those days one might have more occasion to encounter running sores than in antiseptic America. So, I arrogated to myself the task of updating Mr. Charnock's metaphor to something I could more directly relate to.

A running sore is a wound that does not heal. One of the interesting findings of recent medical science is that Cancer hijacks the healing mechanism of the body. The body sees the cancerous tumor as a wound that does not heal. So, it grows. Cancer I know something about.

Hypocrisy is cancer.

When you look at a cancer patient, you see someone whose skin looks deathly, their hair is falling out, and they look bloated and puffy. The cancer does not do that. It's chemotherapy that does all that bad stuff.

I don't know how long I had cancer. I didn't feel particularly bad for the years I now know that I had the disease. For most of the time, I looked pretty healthy. The cancer caused some blood loss through my colon but it was reabsorbed so the net effect was a bit of anemia. And the anemia didn't feel that bad except for the weakness and loss of stamina. And a craving for ice chips.

The functioning hypocrite probably doesn't notice anything either, just a little spiritual anemia. I don't know about the ice chips cravings.

The hypocrite looks as healthy as an undiagnosed cancer victim. He's probably as unaware of the hypocrisy as I was of my cancer. When you're fooling yourself, you can't try to fool God, because you've fooled yourself and think you've nothing to hide. That's what the prophet meant when he said the heart is deceitful.

Another thing about cancer and hypocrisy is denial. Both my parents died of cancer. So, when I felt chest pains, I thought it was heart disease, not anemia caused by cancer. Hypocrites are the people Jesus beat up on the most. Our unchurched friends tell us the church is full of hypocrites. And we say or think to ourselves, maybe where you were, but not my church, not me. A lot of self-image is tied up in NOT being a hypocrite. So, this business of fooling myself into thinking myself free of hypocrisy is just denial.

But what about my accountability partners? Won't they proof me against hypocrisy? I suppose if you're trolling the web for porn, they'll catch you there. But if you're doing that, you know that's wrong. To get denial right, you have to hide all the yardsticks. The great evil of any society is its replacement of God's law with its divergent standards. My philosophy teacher said that Idols define a culture. The Pharisees replaced the law of God with their traditions. God's Law reflects God's character, replacing the law with tradition is a form of idolatry. If you have replaced God's Law with prohibitions against smoking, dancing and drinking, all your accountability partners have done the same. You probably got that from your parents. Which is why God said that idolaters are cursed through several generations. (And if you have replace God's Law with the tradition of deprecating others who have those prohibitions, see above.)

To detect whether you're a hypocrite or not, you can't trust your heart and you can't trust your traditions. You can only trust God who defines the goodness you are trying to show the world. I believe God has spoken in the Bible. It says things about God's character and God's law. If you want to know what God's character is like, know the Ten Commandments. If you want to know how those commands should be lived out, know how Jesus taught them in the Sermon on the Mount, know how Jesus lived them in the Gospels.

You may object, "But all this focus on God's LAW is legalism!" To which we add the subtext, "And not only were the Pharisees hypocrites, they were legalists, too! I mustn't be that!!!"

I am not talking about how to go to heaven. I am talking about how to detect whether you're a hypocrite or not. I'm talking about getting over denial. I'm talking about finding out whether you're fooling yourself or not.

A lot of Baptists just aren't Zen. God's law is not soap. God's law is a mirror. You do not wash your face with a mirror. Legalists try that and they only break the mirror and cut themselves with the shards.

You look in the mirror to see whether your face is dirty. You use the mirror to see which spots you missed shaving. And that's how you use God's Law. It is the way to disclose how you are fooling yourself.

Gentle reader, you are a hypocrite. I know that I am.

What are we to do about our hypocricy? There's something in us that's wrong and killing us and it has to die. If we don't kill it, it'll get worse and kill us. Even if all we notice now is a craving for ice chips. Hypocrisy is cancer. Our unchurched friends are right, church is full of hypocrites.

Chemotherapy kills cancer cells. That's good. Chemotherapy also kills healthy cells. That hurts. When I looked like "death warmed over" during chemotherapy, don't blame the cancer. Blame the chemotherapy. The part of me that was wrong had to die. It bothered me most when my hair fell out. At that point, I had to show to the world that I was dying. My mom bought a wig. My dad shaved his head. I didn't lose all my hair, but it got thin and I had that cancer patient look. But would I do, cancel chemotherapy for cosmetic reasons?

I said I'm a hypocrite, right? Getting rid of hypocrisy could hurt my reputation. Or enhance it, I imagine my adoring fans whispering to themselves, "He's such a great saint for admitting he's a hypocrite. He's probably just oversensitive about teeny little sins." Hypocrites like to imagine adoring fans whispering like this.

Ever have one of those times when you and the Mrs. have a little tiff that settles into a slow burn? Both of you don't obviously yell at each other, but things aren't right either. That's where my heart was when I sat down to write those deathless words of purple prose atop this page.

That's why I'll give short shrift to howto cure hypocrisy. Don't read about soap from me, pick up your Bible. I'm going to trust God's grace. Ask forgiveness and confess the trivial sin of mistreating my wife.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The true Christian's nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool." -C.S. Lewis