Psalm 19.12: “Who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.”
We live in a society of expertise. By that, I mean we live in a world where so much of our life is defined by what experts have to say about the best practices. This has been no more evident recently than with the spread of coronavirus, medical and health experts have been given advice to the public and to government official as to how to handle the pandemic. Genuine experts, and not simply those treated as experts without the necessary background, are important because they help to uncover the veil of ignorance in our lives, reduce harm, and promote well-being.
Yet, there is also a hidden cost in a society of expertise. The judgment of those who make error. To the expert, error is to be avoided. That is how genuine experts become experts, as they burned away all the dross of their wrong thinking to come to some purer understand of their focus of study. This is how expert develop their skills and move up in the world. However, this personal practice of learning can readily morph into the social practice of judging others who make errors. Any look at social media can reveal the attitudes of contempt and derision for those who make errors as ignorant, foolish, evil, etc. To be in error, either in action or thinking, is often times treated as a symptomic of one’s own deeper, problematic character. The society of expertise often reinforces this as experts are often tempted to have to prove themselves by showing the errors of other colleagues.
Living in a society of expertise can have the effect of making us feeling worthless and useless at times, as it trains our minds to think error is something terrible and horrible. When it feels like people are trying to consistently point out the speck in your eye, it can make some feel downright demoralized. When error-finding and error-avoiding is a major social practice that determines one’s status in the eyes of others, it can make us search for ways to clear ourselves of all errors. When we come to feel that error invalidates our person, we seek to find the way to justify ourselves in the eyes of others. If we were patient to take the diligence to learn what is right, that would be one thing. However, much of the time we are impatient, tempting us to find flimsy pretexts and rationalizations for why we are right and, often times, why others are wrong.
The end result is that we may appear right in the eyes of others, but what we think, say, and do bears the fruit of error. When we feel being right is a necessary goal in life as a result of living in a society of expertise, we are immediately prone to justify ourselves. We become obdurate, unwilling to hear where we may be causing problems for others or even ourselves. One need look no further than countless discussions on social media where people act more confident in what they think about a topic, while they ignore and even conjure up conspiracy theories about anything that might say that they are in error. The impatient desire to to be right blinds us from seeing our error.
All this has an unfortunate impact on us spiritually. By seeking to be right, especially in the eyes of others, we lift ourselves up as our own judge. Consequently, we do not entrust our selves and lives to the One who judges righteously but yet also judges mercifully for the merciful. It is God who justifies, but yet we seek to justify ourselves. It is perhaps one thing to defend ourselves from falsehood and to protect ourselves from error, but when we seek to be right, we also seek defend ourselves from the truths about ourselves that we don’t want to accept and take responsibility for. That we are all sinners means that we are not right on our own account, but that we may make spiritual errors that even go beyond our comprehension. It is for this reason that we can not absolve ourselves of all faults because we sin has made a deep mark on our lives and we literally can not understand, know, and treat every sin, every error that we have in our lives.
However, when we know a God who is merciful to the merciful, we can trust that our sin and error does not immediately invalidate us as people and our lives. We become freed to not have to always feel right so that we can then accept and learn what our hidden faults are, while being confident that this way of life in trusting God will lead us to be purer and wiser in our hearts and lives. By recognizing that we are not always in the right, we become spiritually freed to allow God to lead us into what is right, and good, and true.
To do this, though, we have to unlearn what the society of expertise has taught us about error. While we should not disregard genuine expertise, we should not let the way society often treats those in error with derision dictate the way we see ourselves before the living God and the way we treat each other. We have to unlearn the “potential Pharisaism” of wider secular society in order to live in faith in the Father who judges righteously in the way of Jesus showed and taught us.