A pastor friend mentioned some folks who left his church, unhappy because the church used animated Bible stories with their youth. They complained that those videos distorted the Bible and made light of Scripture. The couple finally left the church. But the church they began attending used the same videos, even more frequently than the first.
Why did this couple rant and rave about videos in one church and turn a blind eye to the same videos in another? Because their faultfinding was insincere, trumped up—and not really about the videos themselves. That was merely the pretext.
We are born with a propensity to lie to ourselves and to others. Dostoyevsky wrote, “Lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others.” I agree. I witness this in myself, and I see it in others. Our personal pride masks this “lying to self” propensity. Jeremiah 17:9 puts it this way (ESV): “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Today, I would like to address one specific way in which we lie to ourselves—and others. I call it “accumulating the case for discontent.”
Building a Case
What do I mean by “accumulating the case for discontent?” It looks like this: I have an agenda to separate myself from a person, a commitment, or an organization. I then begin to note imperfections and issues with the person or thing.
When the time is ripe and I announce my separation, I retrieve my mental folder and present a long list of reasons for my separation. They may not be strong reasons, but they are several or even many.
Why do we humans go through all this trouble? We could be honest and say, “I am tired of you, I want a divorce,” but that sounds too trite (because it is). We are probably not going to fairly present the truth if it boils down to this: “It’s all about me and at this stage of life I would have more fun if I chose option B.”
No, the purpose of an accumulating attitude is to justify oneself to ones conscience and usually peers or family. It therefore becomes crucial to “build the case.” So we begin to embrace faultfinding; instead of covering a “multitude of sins” with love (presumably small infractions), we add them to our list. All the while, we condemn others for not being loving, when we ourselves are the ungracious ones.
It is not hard to find flaws: all humans are noted for being imperfect. We find what we are looking for. Our justification usually comes at the expense of others, often with a few final blows.
Ironically, our new situations often involve more problems and flaws than our original ones. Let me illustrate. On occasion, some people who break up their marriages for the purpose of finding someone better often conclude that their first spouse was actually better!
The same thing happens with jobs, churches, friendships, and even locations. Something happens (or we develop an attitude) that turns on a switch. Then we begin our list as we commence our case for discontent.
So how do these personal agendas start? What moves us to begin filing away hurts, disappointments, letdowns, and mishaps? Why do we ignore the Scriptural commands to confront at the time we are hurt, or accept apologies and then forgive and forget? I don’t know all the reasons why we do this, but there are three motivations that stand out in my mind.
First is guilt. We know or suspect what we are doing is wrong or at least questionable. At bare minimum, we fear that we might alienate observers, friends or family who are not at the center of the discontent, but watching. On the other hand, our choice may not be wrong to begin with, but we think we must knock down the straw man to make it look like we had no choice. That, of course, is a great way to burn bridges. We think we need to present our separation as though others were to blame in some way for the choice we are making. When Aaron formed the golden calf, he justified his wrong by claiming the people demanded it of him and he had no choice (Exodus 32:21-24). Of course, sometimes this is true. Some marriage situations are dangerous, some neighbors are ridiculous, and some supervisors do border on insanity. But those cases are usually easy to argue and do not require amassing irritations and letdowns.
A second motivation is power-related: jealously, arrogance, craving the limelight or the quest for more influence. I have seen this many times in church contexts. This problem may show itself through sabotage in the work place, taking credit for another’s work, trying to get an associate fired, taking over a club, or undermining a pastor. A good Biblical example of this was Miriam and Aaron when they demanded equal authority with Moses (Numbers 12).
A third reason is a vow made in bitterness; this often destroys marriages. Imagine this scenario: a married woman is pregnant and already has seven children. Her husband purchases a Corvette for himself. Shortly thereafter, the family washing machine breaks. The husband says, “We don’t have the money to buy a new one. You will just have to haul the laundry to the laundromat for the next three months.”
The wife becomes enraged at her husband’s self-centeredness and lack of compassion toward her. She tells herself, “When the kids are old enough, I am going to get rid of this so-and-so.” She may not say a word to her husband, but she has made a vow to herself.
Next, she begins her mental file of faults and hurts. Even if the husband mellows, twenty years later the wife presents her list of infractions and ends the marriage. Although the particulars vary, this scenario is frequent. Often, the original bitter vow may not even be mentioned.
Absalom is a prime example of this principle. His sister Tamar was sexually abused by their half-brother, Amnon. Their father—King David—did nothing to confront the situation (2 Samuel 13).
Absalom became enraged and bitter toward both Amnon and David. He killed Amnon, and then developed a long-term scheme to depose his father. He schmoozed the common folks and touted how much more compassionate he would be if he were king. Eventually most of Israel favored Abaslom and David was forced to flee for his life.
The consequences of an “accumulating attitude” are many: David lost his kingdom for a time and his son Absalom was killed by David’s men. Centuries later, when wicked King Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard (but Naboth refused to sell), Queen Jezebel hired men to invent trumped up charges against Naboth and have him executed (1 Kings 21:1-16).
That is what an “accumulating attitude” is all about: trumped up charges. Sure, our complaints may not be lies, but our choice to focus upon the faults of our targets makes our level of our discontent trumped-up. We have worked ourselves up (perhaps egged on by others) and wallowing in discontent because we want to be. Yet the genuine reason for our choice lies elsewhere.
Brutal honesty and humble introspection will help defeat this devilish tendency. We need to stop imitating the “Father of lies” (John 8:44). It is really about truth and embracing a fair perspective.
Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.