The Sweetness of Self-Righteousness

—R. H. Hawkes, Ruling Elder

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.
Proverbs 21:2

Apparently, children taste sweet things more intensely than adults do. When I was a kid, I dreamed of when I could get my next sugar. As an adult, my tastes have changed. I now find myself irresistibly drawn to the spiritual candy of self-righteousness. When I see someone do something foolish while driving, I think what a reliable driver I am and, mmm, what a sweet taste that has. Or if I solve a difficult problem at work, I pass right by healthy feelings of a job well done and head for that tasty self-aggrandizement so familiar to little Jack Horner.

Self-righteousness is a great spiritual short-circuit. I am designed to rejoice in what God declares to be good. Instead, I usurp his authority and sanctify imitation and lesser goods, declaring stones to be bread. I relish my good sense in shoes or the humble inflection of my voice. Even sin in me does not dull my self-love. Confessing minor sins and self-deprecation confirm my goodness and turn out to be just as tasty as more obvious forms of self-glory.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the elder brother is free to join the feast with his father and brother, but that is not what he wants. The elder brother wants something from the father that he can enjoy without the father himself. This is exactly my position in self-righteousness: give me something good, something tasty so I can revel in the sweetness of that thing without you.

To be addicted to the sweetness of self-righteousness may seem a natural thing in a world where self-promotion is the rule. In reality, it is unspeakably sad that our own perceived goodness should be so sweet to us. Being good is a good thing. Our goodness, however, is not meant for our pleasure but for the Father’s pleasure. Because we have stolen this sweet designed for God, namely appreciation for our own goodness, we have lost the taste for our proper food which is God’s approval of us.

Thinking well of myself on account of God’s gifts instead of thinking well of him turns me inward. It cuts me off from communion with God. Who can free me from my self-referential, narcissistic prison, this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Behold, the new has come. What seemed sweet, I now find to be unspeakably bitter. I have acquired a new taste that has no parallel on earth. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. Please, Lord, help me to open my hand to receive the Bread of Heaven and to be satisfied in your goodness, not mine.