The Capacity to Fool Yourself

“If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves… If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.” (1 John 1:9}

You can fool yourself, you know. You’d think it’s impossible, but it’s pretty much the easiest thing of all.

“What do you mean, Phib?” asked Miss Squeers, looking in her own little glass, where, like most of us, she saw – not herself, but the reflection of some pleasant image in her own brain.”

That’s Charles Dickens, writing in Nicholas Nickleby. His point being that self-deception sprouts up when I make the choice to see not my true self, but that “pleasant image” that I construct of myself.

But would people really claim to be “free of sin” or to have “never sinned”? Surely we know ourselves too well for that? No, not at all. We simply change the parameters of what we see in the mirror.  George Eliot wrote of someone who “had an agreeable confidence that his faults were all of a generous kind—impetuous, warm-blooded, leonine; never crawling, crafty, reptilian…”

I am strong-willed, clear, assertive. How dare you think me bullying, aggressive and intimidating!

Our capacity to fool ourselves is large indeed.  “A claim like that [of being free from sin] only shows off our ignorance of God.”  But if I looked at the cross of Christ and not at the mirror, I would see what sin does and what human beings are really capable of. I would understand myself more fully. But I would also see what God is capable of.

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