Not Justifying Yourself

Task 39

If you feel that you are always right, you will find it very difficult to change. We learn from an early age how to talk our way out of guilt. We discover how to think up arguments that make it look as if we are in the right and everyone else is wrong. In doing this we might think that we are escaping from guilt or punishment, but we are actually getting ourselves stuck spiritually.

On June 2, 1953 I was on the streets of London awaiting the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The sidewalk was very crowded, and even though the procession was hours away, people were straining to get as close as possible to see what was going on. I heard a person off to my right complain to the person behind her. “Stop pushing and shoving” she said. The man immediately said: “It’s not me, its them behind me.” She immediately came back at him: “There’s nobody behind you.” I looked and saw that there wasn’t. Imagine his embarrassment at having his justification taken away from him.

In Luke Chapter 10 we learn of an expert in the Law of Moses asking Jesus what he would need to go to heaven. Jesus helped him to see that the answer was in the two great commandments – loving God and the neighbor. The passage then says:

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29

When I read that I wonder what he had to justify himself about. Perhaps he had no idea how to really love others. If so, this person, well versed in the Scriptures, was failing to live up to one of its two most basic teachings. Jesus went on to give the parable of the Good Samaritan.

There is a scene in a movie where one prisoner is asking another what crime he committed. The answer was: “We are all innocent in here.” That is perhaps an exaggeration, but I think it would be fair to say that many people who do illegal or evil things think of themselves as being innocent. They can give reasons to justify their behavior.

How often have we heard people say: “I know I shouldn’t say (or do) this, but . . .”

Instead of using our energy to justify ourselves, we might find it much more profitable to observe ourselves, and having done so, think if there is something about our behavior that we should change.

When you notice yourself justifying your own negative state or behavior, let go of the justification and look for the fault. See if you can discover what insight the self-justification was blocking from your awareness.