If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me — -Job 9:20
The non-apology apology is one of life’s most frustrating experiences. It happens when someone wrongs you, then starts to acknowledge it, making you think a sincere apology is coming on. Then they blow the whole thing by giving you their “valid” reasons for the mess up, reasons you’re supposed to accept as either an excuse for their behavior, or a reason to minimize the wrongness of their actions.
For example, I’ll bet you’ve heard this one: “I’m sorry I insulted you, but I was having a rotten day.” Or “I know that what I did was wrong, but you’ve also done (fill in the blank) so I just had to (fill in the other blank.)”
Like I said, frustrating. Because when an apology is due, the last thing you want is an excuse. In most cases, the worthless justification for a sin hurts as much, or even more, than the sin itself. If we hate it when another person does that to us, imagine God’s distaste when we pull that nonsense with Him!
This is especially relevant since we’re now taking stock of what we want to do, and be, this New Year. Part of that includes recognizing habits and character flaws we need to own up to and shed once and for all. While sorting through my own dirty laundry and wondering what’s kept me repeating counter-productive patterns year after year, I’m convinced today that my habit of making excuses for the sin I need to shed is what holds me back more than the sin itself.
“…pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments.” (II Corinthians 10:4)
Excuses are strongholds. Often we think of a “stronghold” as a particular vice we’re hooked on, but that’s not quite it. The word Paul used to describe them is oxýrōma which Strong’s defines as a term “used figuratively of a false argument in which a person seeks ‘shelter’ to escape reality.”
So the sin, whatever it may be, isn’t the stronghold. The stronghold is the excuse we protect it with, the false argument erected as our shelter to escape reality, abdicate responsibility, and guard the idol we’re unwilling to abandon.
A horrible example of this came up a few years back when a man who’d kidnapped then imprisoned three girls for over a decade was caught and sentenced. While appearing before the judge, according to an AP Legal Affairs writer, the man said he had been a sexual abuse victim as a child, at which point the judge cut him off.
When trying to explain his own unexplainable evil, the rapist/kidnapper/sadist pulled out the bad childhood card. The judge didn’t buy it. Bravo.
Now, if the man was violated as a child, that’s horrible. That would mean crimes had been committed against him that scarred and confused him, making life harder, and for that he had a legitimate beef. But insinuating that early abuse propelled him to his own inconceivable crimes is like adding 2 plus 2 and getting 73,000. 2 plus 2 in fact equals 4, not 73,000, and early injuries plus a bad childhood in fact equals pain, not life destroying actions. You cannot hold out the one as a reason for the other.
It’s a Universal Picture
But I think as a race we’ve got an inborn weakness towards self-justification. It shows up in so many of our arguments, during which we try harder to prove ourselves right than to arrive at the truth. It shows up when we’re kids insisting, “It wasn’t my fault, it was his!”, and as adults when we blame our own irresponsible words or deeds on bad upbringing, bad economy, bad hair.
It showed up, in fact, as soon as Adam sinned, when under God’s questioning (“Did you eat the fruit I forbade?”) he shuffled the blame onto Eve (“The woman who You gave me bade me eat”) and even, it seems, onto God Himself. (Note the “You gave me this woman” line which insinuates, in essence, “If You hadn’t given me her then none of this would have happened!”)
Job admitted his own mouth would condemn him if he tried self-justifying, and if someone as righteous as he refused to make excuses for himself, then I’d best bite my own excuse-making tongue, and hard. Because when bad things happen to us they’re to be learned from, the sin acknowledged, the healing sought, and the perpetrator forgiven. There’s a place for grieving and weeping over the wrong we’ve endured; that’s healthy and, to a point, very legit. But when the wrongs done to us are used to excuse the wrongs done by us, then we can expect God, like that judge, to cut us off.
Confessions play well with Him, but excuses? Never. He’ll hear our confessions lovingly and with perfect understanding, always eager to cleanse us and pull us back on our feet. But scripture and, I dare say, your own experience, prove He’s unimpressed by excuses. The bad I’m tempted to do today is the bad I’m ordered to resist by Him, and no unhappy elements of my past or present will alter the mandate to run the race, shed the sin that so easily besets, and fix my eyes on Him. (Hebrews 12:2)
So in 2017, God grant that we all be given the salve we need for our wounds, some of which run pretty deep and can’t be dismissed. But God also grant that we call the wounds of our past just what they are: wounds. Not reasons, excuses or extenuating circumstances granting us special permission to cop out. Our own mouths will condemn us if we self-justify, and worse, we’ll miss out on the joy of walking in the Now by plodding through the Then, denying ourselves the victorious stroll we’re invited to by the One who says, with perfect authority, “Behold, I make all things new.”