Pascal's Pensées: Week 22, Sinners Who Think They Are Righteous


There are only two kinds of people: the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous.


I've been listening to Christianity Today's podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. Well worth a listen.

In following the dramatic rise and fall of Mark Driscoll in the podcast one sees the point Pascal is making here. When sinners think they are righteous they can do tremendous damage. I think religious leaders are particularly prone to this temptation as they frequently see themselves as doing the Lord's work, agents of God's purpose and plan. Righteous instruments. And when that happens, when a thirst for fame or power gets painted over as godly and good, well, disaster awaits. 

And we all struggle with this. For example, social media is so toxic because people believe they are righteous in acting so terribly. If Twitter is anything it is a mob of sinners who think they are righteous.

As Freud pointed out so long ago, we struggle to face hard truths about ourselves and tend to act defensively, with denials and rationalizations, rather than admit our failings. I think Jesus said it best:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

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