Yes, Your Mother And Father Are Hypocrites… Sort Of
The word hypocrite is thrown around a lot today; sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. So it’s a good idea, since words are the building material for our thinking, to contemplate what is meant by this word lest we discover that our thoughts are constructed of faulty material. So why don’t we start thinking about that word, hypocrite, by looking at its definition? A quick google search defines it thus:
The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform
Now I want you to think hard about this definition, but not in light of how the lives of others may be hypocritical, but rather how your own life is hypocritical. That we are so much more adept at discerning hypocrisy in others has a way of blinding us to the hypocrisy in ourselves. So for starters, as we study this word, let us realize that we have our own propensities toward this sin, and we ought to be troubled more by those failures than the supposed hypocrisy that we see in the lives of others.
So to begin, let’s unpack this word a bit. I want you to notice two important components in the definition. There’s the objective component: “the standard,” and then there’s the subjective component: “one’s own behavior.” Therefore, let’s look a little closer at these.
One method of escaping the charge of being a hypocrite involves the claim that there is no such thing as an objective standard by which all human beings can be measured. By doing this, so it is reasoned, the charge of hypocrisy is dodged because there is no held standard to which one’s behaviors do not conform. This sounds easy enough on the surface, but life still forces the one who attempts to hold this view into hypocrisy, because holding to the “truth” that there is no standard is itself a standard. This view makes too many assumptions as it attempts to free the man for libertine freedom while holding humanity to the restraints of a civil code. One can’t, on the one hand for example, insist that there are no such things as objective moral standards, and then on the other expect to live in a safe and civil society. According to his standardless standard, he has no right to impose any moral standard on his neighbor. But those who attempt to live according to this extreme do just that, and so qualify as hypocrites.
But it gets worse. According to this standard of standardlessness, one can’t even make the charge of hypocrite without becoming one. If there is no objective standard that applies to all human beings, then it only follows that living a life of hypocrisy doesn’t fall short of any standard because no such standard exists.
But we, your parents, don’t live that way. We do have a standard. And, we not only preach that standard, we have taught it to you as best we could. And I also realize that where there is a standard there is the opportunity for hypocrisy. What’s worse, our standard includes a prohibition against hypocrisy. We agree with, “thou shalt not steal,” and we have no problem with, “hypocrisy is sinful.” And on top of that, we are guilty of both.
It would seem then, if we were to endure the trial of thinking about it for a bit, that no matter what anyone says, hypocrisy is a fact of life for everyone. But before we go too far down that road, let’s explore the objective and subjective just a little further with a little story I made up:
A man robs a bank. The police show up and surround the building trapping him inside. He then takes hostages and begins to make demands. During the standoff, he manages to kill seven hostages, one because he found out that he was gay, one because he was a foreigner, one because she was Muslim, one because he was black, one because she was a woman, and he hated women, one because he was poor, and he hated poor people too, and one because he could see that he was a man wearing women’s clothes. He also raped two women, one of which he got pregnant and then forced her to have the baby. But, alas, in a stroke of genius he manages to escape his predicament with over ten million dollars that he didn’t even need because he was already very wealthy. He was just greedy and wanted more, plain and simple.
On the way home, after stealing another ten dollars from a homeless person, he stops by his extremely rich buddy’s store to buy a bottle of liquor and a hundred cartons of cigarettes to hand out to minors in his neighborhood. While there, he notices a young boy, who was obviously very poor, slipping a nickel-piece of gum into his pocket. When the boy attempted to leave with his stolen gum, the robber alerted the store owner that the kid was shoplifting, and he lectured the kid that stealing was wrong.
Here’s my question to you. Was what the man said to the kid true or false? Was the kid stealing? Yes. Is stealing wrong? Yes. This story highlights the confusion that we can find ourselves in when our sins mix themselves up with each other. We find comfort in simply disregarding people as hypocrites when they point out our sin. But you need to know two things. Your failure to hold to a standard does nothing to negate the existence of that standard, nor does it mean that you can’t yourself, as one who has fallen short of it, appeal to that same standard. And just because someone else has fallen short of it, they too can appeal to it and insist that the standard exists and that we are all accountable to it.
No one should feel compelled to turn a blind eye to standards of right and wrong out of fear of being called a hypocrite. Such would swing the door wide for anarchy and beckon it in, because everyone falls short, which would mean that no one could ever hold anyone accountable. What policeman has never exceeded a speed limit? What judge has never lied? Yet they still hold others to standards that they have fallen short of. No one really wants to live in the kind of Hell on earth that would result if, once we have broken a law, we can no longer appeal to that law in favor of a more peaceful society. But unfortunately, that’s exactly where the culture in which you live is headed. No one can appeal to a standard because once they do the response is predictable. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” you might hear. “Are you perfect? Then what gives you the right to suggest that there is a standard by which we ought to live, you hypocrite?” None of these admit the existence of the standard. They only ridicule anyone who suggests that it’s advantageous for everyone if we all do our best to live by it. Remember, Jesus said, even of the Pharisees, live as they say, not as they do. (Matt 23:1) For Jesus, that they were hypocrites did not negate the law that they taught.
The Gospel does impose itself into this seeming dichotomy; let’s consider how. First, the Gospel has two components, the bad and the good news, both of which apply to our discussion. The bad news is that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God is sinless. He is no hypocrite. He can and does point to His own standard and holds all men accountable to it. In fact, all of humanity is under God’s judgment for falling short of His standard. That’s the bad news.
But the good news is that He loved the world so much that he provided a way of escape from His justice. That escape is through Jesus’ righteousness and His atoning sacrifice. We, your parents, make no pretense of righteousness. We do admit, to ourselves, to God, and to our fellow Man that we have fallen short, not of our own weak standard, or any standardless standard, but of God’s holy and righteous standard. We, at the same time, like the robber in the story, point to His standard as the standard by which all will be judged by God, even though we ourselves have fallen under that same judgment. We do realize though that that looks a lot like hypocrisy to those who have not sought refuge from that judgment. But we don’t point to ourselves as holding to the standard, only that there is a standard by which we are all held accountable. And we call all men to repent, just as I, a man whom you’ve watched up close and personal live a sub-standard life, call you to repent.
But it’s not like we repent and live a life of righteousness. No, we repent and then live a life of repentance. We sin, we repent, and we call all men to live repentantly also, and there’s no hypocrisy in doing that. And yet still, I don’t claim to not be a hypocrite. I only claim that to the extent that I am a hypocrite, it’s wrong and sinful, and I pray that God will grant me the faith and grace to repent and change.
My dear children, there is much hypocrisy in this day, yes, very much indeed. And, yes, it’s in the Church too just as it’s in your own home. But there’s no less of this sin to be found in those who stand outside the Church and point their fingers at Jesus’ Bride and accuse it day and night of hypocrisy. They should take Jesus’ words seriously and remove the log from their own eye before they attempt to help the Church remove the speck from its eye. And in the same way, beloved, if you find yourself observing hypocrisy in me, I pray that you would do the same. It’s my prayer, in fact, that you, dear children, would live as un-hypocritical a life as you can, and by doing so that you will be able to perhaps help your own father remove the logs that blind him so much. My need is excessive, and nothing blesses me more than to have my own children rise up to help me defeat the formidable foe of hypocrisy that plagues me.