Identifying Self Deceit (136)

In this episode John and Gregg continue to consider Gregg’s Sunday morning discussion group.

John begins by returning to his uncertainty about Gregg’s contention that the beginning of the “Disciple’s Prayer” in Matthew 6: 9-13 (“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. . .”) is a clear indication that God’s will is not being done on earth in the same way that it is being done in heaven.

Gregg replies that his view is that, for Christians, if one believes that one sins then this obviously shows that God’s will is not being done all the time… because it is not being done in my own life! So it follows, Gregg reasons, that Matthew 7:9-10 should be taken to mean what it ostensibly indicates, and not the opposite (which one participant adamantly asserted).

So the reality of human sinfulness that is readily apparent in our world (through our own actions, through great tragedies such as Rwanda and the Holocaust, etc.) simply cannot be seen as things that God desires. Rather, Gregg believes that those who hold such beliefs do so because, in a rather warped and contradictory way, they feel safer knowing that God is “in charge” of all the evil in the world and that God is somehow “using it” to bring about good (despite the means or reasons for this being unfathomable).

On this topic, Gregg advocates an understanding of sin that originates from (and makes sense in light of) God’s dual nature as both sovereign and father. Thus where God is the source of all truth there are behaviours and practices that Christians may see as categorically wrong (and to be avoided) and categorically right (and to be fostered). Thus sin involves embracing some practices and eschewing others.

Yet where God is love (and is Father or parent), God is also seeking to foster relationship with human beings and so sin takes on other characteristics. In this case sin should be seen as orientations and actions, both conscious and pre-conscious, ommissive and commissive, for which human beings are responsible and which thwart our primary love relationship: those things I do that create distance where I most desire closeness.

Thus Gregg argues that sin is not the problem to which holiness is the solution (sin’s opposite). Rather, sin is both the symptom of and contributor to the real problem, which is the absence of right relationship with God.

John returns to the Disciples’ prayer and wonders about what it means for “God’s will” to be done. Gregg again categorizes this as being in right relationship with God. Thus Gregg sees himself as an agent for God—he literally “works for God”—which is what Christians are called to do.

John sees the topic of self-deceit to be an extremely slippery one, because we never see when we are deceiving ourselves! So John wonders what “counter practices” we may use to counter self-deception? Gregg notes a number of them. First, one cannot “go it alone.” Second, one needs to be open to, and participate in, dialogue (in our churches, communities, etc.). Third, one needs a basic awareness of one’s weaknesses and growth areas. Fourth, one must develop the practices of reading the Bible against ourselves. Fifth, developing good communication skills, such as “active listening.” Sixth, attend counselling. Seventh, travelling in foreign countries / being immersed in other cultures.

Gregg terms these de-centering practices, because they move the self out of the centre and toward the periphery, counter to our typical orientation. By extension, Gregg estimates that middle-aged white males are the most likely to suffer from self-deceit, as these are the most “centrally” placed individuals in Western society (that is, these are the individual most likely to hold power).

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