Have you ever been in a situation where, no matter what you do, you will offend someone? Have you ever had to decide between two courses of action, knowing that either choice you make will have negative consequences? Have you been confused about what to believe? You hear two things; both seem reasonable, yet both cannot be true. To accept one means to deny the other.
We human beings are an inconsistent lot. When we have done something wrong, we want other people, and especially God, to show us mercy. On the other hand, when someone has done something against us, we want justice. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, it is not merely justice we want, we want vengeance. We want to pay others back for what they have done to us. We want to do more to them than they have done to us. We want to destroy them.
Have you ever been in a situation where someone rejected what you said or your expertise because you are not able to put the right “letters” after your name? “What do you know? You never went to college.” Society puts a lot of emphasis on degrees and credentials. It can be difficult to get a job unless you have been to the right school or have a certificate saying that you took a certain course. Many people equate the piece of paper with authority.
Has it ever seemed to you that you are being punished for doing the right thing? Perhaps you tried to help someone only to have them question your motives. Perhaps you told the truth only to be rebuked for it. Perhaps your honesty resulted in monetary loss. Perhaps people laugh at you because you won’t take a bribe. Perhaps people cheat you and take advantage of your integrity and righteousness.
Many religions teach that it is a good thing to fast. In fact, some religions require it. They set aside certain days or certain months when people are supposed to not eat as they normally would. Many people think that abstaining from food for a long period of time is an act of merit which will make them more pleasing to God. In exchange for not eating, they receive righteousness. But how does God view fasting? What kind of fast is truly pleasing to Him?
Many people have the idea that advancement in life is like a child’s see-saw – if the person on one side of the see-saw goes up the person on the other end inevitably goes down. According to this way of thinking, a person can only get ahead at the expense of someone else. This is why people undermine their fellow workers and try to make them look bad – “If he stumbles, it will make me look better”. They think that their success depends on other people failing.
Whether it is in our homes, our place of business, our religious institutions, or our government, we expect those who are in authority over us to do what is best for us. We expect them to have the wisdom and understanding to lead us in such a way that our lives will become better than they were before. Whenever a leader puts his own agenda and his own self-interest ahead of the welfare of those in his care, those under him are sure to suffer. Even worse than a leader who allows his own selfish desires to interfere with his responsibility to lead, nurture and protect those under him is the leader who deliberately deceives, manipulates and misleads. It would be better for the people to have no leader at all than one who abuses, oppresses and takes advantage of them.
We like to think of Jesus as the ultimate model of perfection – even though He shared in our humanity and we humans are weak and imperfect. And Jesus truly is perfect! The Bible makes it clear that He never sinned – not even once! The Scriptures also say that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:2-3). In light of this, would it surprise you that at one point Jesus was not perfect? That there was something He had to learn?
All of us would like others to think well of us. All of us wish to be accepted. Unfortunately, we do not always understand what it is that wins the respect and acceptance of others. Some think that they can buy their way into popularity or acceptance. They set out to accumulate things, thinking that their possessions will give them an entrance to the society they desire. Possessions, money or wealth may generate envy in others, but they will not win you respect.
We like to think that we are in the right. Even when we think thoughts or entertain positions which are questionable we, more often than not, are able to convince ourselves that the position we take or the things we say really are true. When we take up a cause, we do so because we are convinced that it is the right thing to do. Since we are right it follows that other people should agree with us, they should share the same opinions and endorse the same things we do. If someone does not agree with us it means that he is wrong, is misinformed or, perhaps, is even our enemy.