How to be Wrong When You’re Right

I can take even the smallest incident and use it to prove my own superiority. When Shannon and I got sick a few weeks ago, I was tempted by the thought that I was a better person because I got over my sickness more quickly than she did. Chivalrous, right? My heart wanted to turn a normal life event into a competition—all so that my self-esteem could get a little pick-me-up.

Maybe you don’t use innocuous circumstances for one-upmanship, but how do you act when faced with a hotly debated topic like abortion? Let’s say you’re of the conviction that unborn children are distinct entities that have been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including the right to life. Such a stance is, I believe, true to science, logic, and biblical teaching. Nevertheless, it is a stance based on knowledge that must be used rightly.

Truth was never designed to be a weapon of mass destruction, but that’s how we often treat it. It’s too easy to turn a healthy exchange of ideas into a death match. If our motives are wrong, we’ll use truth to kill rather than convict, to put others in their place and shame them into submission. We can be so focused on the rightness of our cause that we’re ready and willing to sin against others in order to prove it.

Does the issue of abortion call for outrage and grief and anger? Yes, it does. The taking of innocent life—no matter how much Orwellian nomenclature is used—must be shown for what it truly is.

There’s a big difference, though, between genuine grief over sin and proving how tall we are by cutting everyone else’s heads off. Christ, after all, didn’t parade His superiority in front of us, even though He was completely in the right and we were in the wrong. We were His enemies, and yet He came to die in our place. He loved the unlovable—you and me.

Having received the amazing grace of God, we are called now to pour that same grace onto others. If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and if our neighbor includes anyone with whom we come into contact (as the story of the good Samaritan shows us), what does that mean for the abortion debate? It means that our neighbor is not just the unborn child who doesn’t have a voice of his own. Our neighbor is also the pregnant woman abandoned by her significant other. Our neighbor is that significant other. Our neighbor is even the abortionist himself.

When it comes to any debatable topic (whether it’s abortion, the gospel, or something else), if we enter the fray self-righteously, our motives will likely be apparent in our words and actions—even if we are in the right. People will be less likely to hear our words if our actions are speaking more loudly.

In his book Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards gives some helpful advice for how someone can avoid being wrong when he is right:

He may reprove his neighbor; but if he does, it will be with politeness and without bitterness, which still shows the design to be only to exasperate.

It may be with strength of reason and argument and serious expostulation, but without angry reflections or contemptuous language.

He may show a dislike of what is done, but it will not be with an appearance of high resentment; but

as a man would reprove another that has fallen into sin against God, rather than against him; and

as lamenting his calamity more than resenting his injury, and

as seeking his good rather than his hurt;

more to deliver him from the calamity into which he has fallen than to be even with him for the injury he has brought on him.

Are we willing to harbor bitterness and hatred in our hearts toward proponents of abortion? Are we willing to mix our passion with contemptuousness? Are we willing to belittle our political opponents and shower them with condescending spite? If so, then we are wrong—even if we are absolutely right.

photo credit: RLHyde via photopin cc