You might be a Pharisee (at least when these symptoms occur) if…
- Your walk with God has caused you to become narrower, uncomfortable with mystery, unfamiliar with wonder. "History attests that religion and religious people tend to be narrow. Instead of expanding our capacity for life, joy, and mystery, religion often contracts it." (Kindle location 729)
- You find yourself looking to the Bible for just the right principle or promise instead of as a book of wonder about a loving God. "As systematic theology advances, the sense of wonder declines. The paradoxes, contradictions, and ambiguities of life are codified, and God Himself is cribbed, cabined, and confined within the pages of a leather-bound book. Instead of a love story, the Bible is viewed as a detailed manual of directions." (Kindle locations 731-733)
- Your "Sabbath" is a time to kick back and rest from your frantic life the previous week (including frantic church activity!). "A rest from preoccupation with money, pleasure, and all creature comforts meant getting a proper perspective in relation to the Creator. On the Sabbath, Jews reflected and put the events of the past week in a larger context of saying to God: 'You are the true Ruler, I am but Your steward.'" (Kindle Locations 741-742). "Rest from work was not the primary focus of the Sabbath observance. It was both supplementary to worship and a form of worship itself. But worship remained the essential element of the Sabbath celebration." (Kindle Locations 749-751).
- You find yourself preoccupied with doing things right with a nagging sense that you have never done enough. (Underlying, unresolved guilt is a dead giveaway that I am living as a Pharisee and not Abba's Trusting Child! TW)
- You find yourself either afraid to listen to or unaware that you need to peer with God's Spirit at your self talk and inner world. (Pharisees are often preoccupied with the external world because their ignorance of God's love and mercy make them afraid to look deep within. Note I am not speaking of mindless introspection here, but the deep, Spirit-guided and honest awareness of one's thoughts and feelings.)
- Blame, of yourself as well as others, seems to be a frequent companion of yours. You never feel like you will measure up to God's expectations. "Blame is a defensive substitute for an honest examination of life that seeks personal growth in failure and self-knowledge in mistakes."(Kindle Locations 794-795).
- Instead of joy and safety, your walk with God seems to breed a sense of uneasiness and uncertainty about your relationship with God. "A vague uneasiness about ever being in right relationship with God haunts the pharisee's conscience. The compulsion to feel safe with God fuels this neurotic desire for perfection. This compulsive endless moralistic self-evaluation makes it impossible to feel accepted before God. His perception of personal failure leads to a precipitous loss of self-esteem and triggers anxiety, fear, and depression." (Kindle Locations 811-813).
- Preoccupation with appearances is more important than fascination with God. "The pharisee within usurps my true self whenever I prefer appearances to reality, whenever I am afraid of God, whenever I surrender the control of my soul to rules rather than risk living in union with Jesus, when I choose to look good and not be good…" (Kindle Locations 813-815).
Okay, maybe that's enough for now. Perhaps you can see why at least some of these made me stop and say, "Ouch!" I think that the truth is that many followers of Jesus struggle at times with the Pharisee within us. But it would be all-too-Pharisaical to ask "what should I do to fix this?," of course, so perhaps our response if the Pharisee pops up is to bring him/her to God, asking Him to reveal what part of His love for us, demonstrated forever in Jesus, we still don't understand. One last quote from Brennan Manning: "To deny the pharisee within is lethal. It is imperative that we befriend him, dialogue with him, inquire why he must look to sources outside the Kingdom for peace and happiness." (Kindle Locations 832-833).
And yes, I am smiling as I write this today. The journey to become Abba's trusting child is not ours to fail nor miss, but rather it is His grace-infused gift that He pursues us relentlessly to lavish on us. It's impossible to remain a Pharisee in the presence of His stubborn commitment to love us to life!
Increasingly captured by His kindness.
Tom, one of Abba's children