Do you remember this commercial?
If you are that guy, what is your first instinct? "Woa, Babe! This isn't what it look likes," or "Honey, umm, I can explain." When people misunderstand our words or actions the dominant tendency is to clarify, to correct...to justify. We want to justify ourselves before others, to let them know that we are "okay."
The urge to justify does not come simply at the hands of a misunderstanding. It also comes when someone unfairly attacks or criticizes us. That's when we dress justification up as defensiveness. Even when we are wrong, when the accusations are correct and the understandings on target, we want to justify ourselves, "I know I did that horrible thing, but I'm not really that horrible person. Look, I've done this good thing...and this good thing...and I rescued a starving gerbil and bottle-fed it back to health." We want people to think we are "okay" whether misunderstood, criticized, or guilty!
A few months ago after a breakfast with Randy Harris, The Church of Christ Monk, I sent him an email saying, "I hope I don't sound like I'm telling you, 'I'm okay, Randy! Really!' I just 'feel' okay - but may not be!" He replied:
"You are NOT ok.
I am NOT ok.
Thank GOD, Thats ok!"
None of us are okay and that is why we need Jesus, but how much time do we waste, how many words do we use, and how much energy do we expend, whether misunderstood or guilty, attempting to convince people that we are okay? We cannot make ourselves okay. It is impossible to justify ourselves. "It is God who justifies" (Romans 8:33b).
I Samuel 24-25 reminds us, on a grand scale, that "it" is God's to justify. In chapter 24 King Saul is pursing David with intent to kill. He arms himself with 1000 soldiers. During the pursuit, Saul feels the need to tinkle, and Nature's Call waits on no one - not even the king. Saul enters a cave (I'm sure one clearly marked with a little man figure) to take care of business. It just so happens David and his men are hiding in stall number two of that same cave. David's men encourage him to seize the opportunity and to take matters into his own hands, to kill King Saul. David refuses and moments later explains to Saul why, although easily accomplished, he spared his life:
I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.
Although innocent, David leaves the "making it right" to God. In the very next chapter, David is wronged again, this time by a man called 'Fool'- Nabal. David and his men have been protecting Nabal's land and so when hunger strikes David sends his men to request lamb chops from Nabal. "Fool-boy" denies the request inciting David to anger. David draws his sword and leads his angry men (we all know hunger makes men grumpy) to uproot Nabal's family tree. On his way to the slaughterfest, Abigail, Nabal's wife, meets David and pleads with him to ignore her foolish husband, to take the food she offers, and to let God settle the score:
And now, my lord, as surely as the LORD your God lives and as you live, since the LORD has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. (v. 26)
David quickly acknowledges her wisdom (V. 32-33):
“Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.
The David examples are extreme, but they make the point. In both cases, once through self-initiation and the other through the gentle reminder of sly Abigail, David restrains from doing what is God's to do. It was God's to make it right. It was God's to settle the score. It was God's to avenge. It was God's to justify. And it is STILL God who justifies. It is God who clears up the misunderstanding. It is God who defends us. It is God who makes us "okay."
Although it is God's to justify most of us seek self-justification. Self-justification is about just that, SELF. It focuses on how we appear to others. It focuses on performance. It plays the comparative game, and it is impossible to accomplish. So, how do we fight that urge to justify ourselves before others? How do we live out of the truth "It is God who justifies?" How do we trust in his work? SILENCE!
- When someone misunderstands your actions or words - "Shhh! Don't explain." Silence.
- When someone unfairly criticizes you - "Zip the lip. No need to defend." Silence.
- When you blow it and people question you and you desperately want them to know you are okay- "Hush! You can't undo no matter what you do." Silence.
Over the last 4.5 months my breath prayer has been Romans 8:33b "It is God who justifies." At first, I recited it over and over again just to fall asleep and now, although I pray it less frequently, it centers my life. It is REALLY hard to let God justify. I want so badly to explain, to clarify, to prove, and to demonstrate but I have found in those moments when I live out of this prayer, when I let God justify, I am free, relaxed, and at peace.
I guess that is enough said ;-)