The Danger of Self-Defense
A friend tells you he wants to talk to you, and when you get together, you realize that what he really wanted to do was confront you. You’re not really excited about being told bad things about yourself, but this is your friend, so you’re willing to listen. As he lays out his concerns, you feel pain. You can’t believe what you’re being told about yourself!
The Art of Self-Preservation
Silently and inwardly you quickly give yourself to well-developed self-defense tactics, marshaling arguments that you’re a better person than the one being described. You want to believe that what you’re hearing is a distortion, lacking in accuracy and love, but you know you can’t. You’re devastated because deep down you know it’s true. You know that God has brought this person your way. You know that what you’re being required to consider is an accurate description of yourself. Such a description is found in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” What a devastating description! It’s hard to swallow, isn’t it? You want to think that this biblical description is of the people who are more sinful sinners than you and I are.
The Mirror Doesn’t Lie
But this verse is not describing a super-sinner class. No, it’s a mirror into which every human being is meant to look and see himself. It is capturing in a few powerful words what theologians call “total depravity.” Now, total depravity doesn’t mean that as sinners we are as bad as we could possibly be. No, what it actually means is that sin reaches to every aspect of our personhood. Its damage of us is total. Physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, motivationally, socially, we have been damaged by sin. Its ravages are inescapable and comprehensive. No one has dodged its scourge, and no one has been partially affected. We are all sinners. It reaches to every aspect of what makes us us. Sadly, when each of us looks into the mirror of Genesis 6:5, we see an accurate description of ourselves.
You Can’t Handle the Truth!
Now, you have to ask yourself: Why is Genesis 6:5 so hard to accept? Why do we spontaneously rise to our own defense? Why are you and I devastated when our weakness, sin, and failure are pointed out? Why do we find confrontation and rebuke painful even when they are done in love? Why do we want to believe that we are in the good class of sinners? Why do we want to believe that we are deprived, but not depraved? Or that we are depraved, but not totally? Why do we find comfort in pointing to people who appear to be worse sinners than we are? Why do we make up self-atoning revisions of our own history? Why do we erect self-justifying arguments for what we have said or done? Why do we turn the tables when someone points out a wrong, making sure that they know that we know that we’re not the only sinner in the room? Why do we line up all the good things we’ve done as a counter-balance for the wrong that is being highlighted? And why do we do all these things again and again?
We’ll consider the answer to these questions in the next post.
Paul Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is "Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life." He is the author of many books, including How People Change, War of Words, and Age of Opportunity. Paul has been married for many years to Luella and they have four grown children.