Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The mugness of smugness

The world would have ended today according to some Christian believers. So far I'm still here and I'm actually quite pleased about that! I do find that all these prophecies about the end of days are rather silly especially as Our Lord tells us clearly that no-one knows the time when God will put an end to things. Not even Jesus knew in His humanity when the end time would be, even though He knew in His divinity. So I guess I'm feeling rather smug that these people who state categorically when the end of the world will be have come a cropper. Is it right of me to feel smug, ever?

The answer is no, and quite categorically so. The fact that I am smug demonstrates self-righteousness and this is actually a big sin because it allies itself with pride. It is pride which caused Lucifer to fall from Heaven, and it is pride that can cost a man his soul if he refuses to let go of it.

So how does smugness work?

The essential feature of smugness is found when we are shown to be right at another's expense and derive some joy or satisfaction from that expense. There's clearly an attitude of transaction that the investment in showing oneself to be in the right is paid by another's being shown to be wrong. We see that the whole power of being smug is the pleasure of being shown to be right. It is divorced from the actual truth itself.

And this is the problem, particularly for those who are supposed to be bearing witness to the Truth.

I don't think smugness is peculiar to Christians but I do think it is very damaging to our message when we exhibit characteristics of being smug. The point is that we believe fundamentally that Our Lord Jesus Christ is indeed the Way, the Truth and the Life. When we are smug, we are actually doing something very damaging to our faith.

We can debate atheists at the academic level and show them to be wrong about what we believe, but if we treat our debate like some kind of contest, then no wonder that we can be judged as being smug. We can forget a central fact that it really is not we who can convert anyone. It is only God who can turn someone to Him, and even then He has the respect enough to allow that person to choose. All the Christian should do is just bear witness, not rejoice in getting one over on another, not treat evangelism like an intellectual contest. A debate should be an honest inquiry into the truth - a dialogue in which positions can be investigated and scrutinised honestly.

The Church has a duty to combat heresy because heresy does endanger people's souls. There is only one God in three persons and that is difficult to comprehend, but the central truth of our salvation through Our Lord Jesus Christ needs to be told and told well, not for our sake but for the sake of others. This is where smugness really lets us down because smugness is inherently selfish. It comes at the expense of the person to whom we are trying to minister. The moment we forget about them and where they are then we have lost the Truth and its power, but exchanged that great power for our own which is worse than useless.

Often, when someone leaves the Church we find fault with their theology. That theology may indeed be flawed but we often miss the question of what it is about the Church that has caused that person to leave. We forget that someone who leaves the Church is tacitly saying something about the way we haven't been communicating our precious Truth. If someone leaves in heresy, then it is because we have not been thinking of them and where they are, but rather basking in the warm glow of our own smugness. That is an indictment and it is a serious indictment.

What's the answer to smugness? Simple: look at the other person and put yourself where they are.

If some Christians are predicting the end of the world, one has to ask why. The answer is simple. They want the world to end, and it's not hard to see why as we watch much chaos, bloodshed and loveless behaviour spreading around the globe. What they want is not so much the end of the world but the end of mankind's cruelty and the coming of God's Kingdom. Well, I'm on board with that. I don't think it will happen the way they will. I will stand with them and say "Maranatha". Even so, come Lord Jesus.

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