–September of 2007
Real Persons or Fictive Characters?
The bravest moment of a person’s life is when they take an objective look at themselves. The saints saw such introspection as healthy and necessary for character transformation and growth in personal holiness. The value is not in just the looking, but in honestly acknowledging and dealing with what one may find. It can be very painful to confront the truth about ourselves, but a failure to do so thwarts the goal of becoming the “real” person that God intends for us to be. Furthermore, when we fail to acknowledge something that we know is true about ourselves and rather seek to obscure it, we inadvertently cultivate a dangerous form of duplicity that makes us more of a fictive person than a real one. James calls this, “deceiving yourselves.” Jesus called it hypocrisy.
The word hypocrisy comes from the language of the theater. It originally meant “recitation, acting on stage.” What happens on a stage is not real – it is fiction – it is make believe. All that is bad about fictive behavior was transferred to the word hypocrisy until it has become a word that is exclusively negative. One may brag of almost any sin, but one never brags of being a hypocrite. Hypocrisy is ceasing to be a real person in order to become a character. By the time of Jesus the word had acquired at least one other meaning. It began to be used to describe the disconnection between outward life and inward reality. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites because they sought an outward conformity to the law while their hearts were vile and wicked.
Blaise Pascal wrote, “Every person has two lives: one is the true life, and the other is the imaginary life lived in one’s own or other’s opinion. We work tirelessly to embellish and preserve our imaginary selves, and we neglect our true selves.” Whether Pascal is fully correct or not, what is true is that one almost never hears of anyone acknowledging this subtle sin that so easily dogs the steps of those who pursue righteousness and value holy living. Why? The reason is simple: Wherever spiritual values, piety, and holy living are the most highly esteemed, the temptation will be present to pretend to have them—so as not to seem to be without them. Wherever rules of behavior are valued and adherence to those rules is obvious to others, the temptation to “act out” our commitment for the sake of others or because of fear of what others may think will always be near at hand.
Why is hypocrisy such an abomination to God? Because hypocrisy it is a form of idolatry. Hypocrisy gives the creature a place that belongs only to the Creator. One lets what others think become more important to us than what God thinks. In the end we become performers for the audience (others) rather than living a life solely for the glory of God. It can even lead to a distortion of scripture as it alleviates the view of my peers over the clear teaching of God’s Word.
What is the cure for such hypocrisy? First, we need to seek to have a heart that has been so thoroughly cleansed of sinful self-love that we are more anxious about “being” (true character) than we are about “seeming” (our reputation). Second, we need to establish in our soul the principle behind whatever rules we use to guide our lives so that it is indeed the principle rather than the rule that does the guiding. Third, we must understand that any ritual we perform or rule we keep that is not motivated by love for God and man will be just an empty shell—a complete facade.
True spirituality will always make us more real not less. It constantly reminds us that, “all things are naked and opened before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” C.S. Lewis was right when he said, “The prayer preceding all prayers is: May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.” God deals in reality. Let’s be real!