George Carlin once observed a universal rule of the road: “every driver slower than you is an idiot. And every driver faster is a maniac.”
You on the other hand… You are the golden mean. You are, because you say you are. And who would dare to contradict!?
We all naturally “do what is right in our own eyes.”
This saying is an important one in the book of Judges. The first 16 chapters describe the 13 Judges who ruled Israel in between Joshua and Saul. There’s a cycle: oppression from foreign rulers; prayer to God for a deliverer; the raising up of a Judge; a generation or so of peace; and then a fall back into sin and oppression. The cycle is repeated again and again.
These little rulers – miniature portraits of Christ, like Samson – gave a foretaste of the righteous rule of King Messiah. But little christs sin and die. They cannot deliver. Not finally. And when they go, society falls into even deeper chaos. Without such a judge above them, the people would judge themselves. And their self-declared verdict was always “not guilty”.
In the final four chapters of Judges we read of the results, and it’s not pretty. Rank idolatry, warfare, adultery, brutal rape and murder. Finally there is a near total genocide. These chapters are like a kick in the stomach. We are left reeling by this vision of christlessness.
And the phrase which bookends the whole sorry tale is this:
In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:6; 21:25)
Here is humanity in its natural state: christless man, if you like. What is so chilling is that moral justification – readily self-bestowed – is married to utter wickedness. It’s not just breaking the speed-limit that they deem “right in their own eyes.” It’s rape, murder and genocide.
Yet who can deny that the very worst atrocities of history have not only been committed but justified by their perpetrators? It turns out that sin makes us less likely to confess our badness, not more. To sin is to love darkness. You become even less prepared to “come clean” in the light. Sin and self-righteousness go hand in hand.
This is well portrayed in the film, The Talented Mr Ripley. Unbeknownst to his friend, Matt Damon’s character has committed a terrible murder. But he explains how a murderer can “make sense of it” as a “good person.”
“Whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense doesn’t it? In your head. You never meet anyone who thinks they’re a bad person,” said the murderer.
And it’s not just the monsters of history and the murderers is it? In myself I have an incredible capacity for self-righteousness that’s not dampened by sin but actually enflamed! Without turning to Christ, the more I sin the less likely I am to face my badness. Instead I dwell in the basement and declare all that I do “right in my own eyes.”
What is the solution? We need a Judge above us to pass an objective verdict. The question is, how could that verdict ever be favourable, given our nature?
Well this Judge would have to take our well-deserved judgement rather than dispense it. Rather than crush us, He’d have to be like Samson, crushed for our deliverance. He’d have to shine His light upon us, without condemning us. He’d have to be a Judge who befriends even the guilty. A Judge who justifies the wicked.
Only then we can throw open the curtains, come clean and confess to who we are. And here’s the irony – when we acknowledge our sin to Christ, then we are justified by Christ. Or to put it another way, we become right in His eyes.
Thus, the world divides into those who are ‘right in their own eyes’, and those who are wrong in His. But the miracle of the Judge who justifies is this: Those who are wrong in their own eyes, become right in His.