After 21 years of cohabitation, my mum is in no doubt that I am right all the time. In fact, my instinctual objection to the idea of papal infallibility was that it was actually me who was infallible, and me and the Pope didn’t agree on a whole bunch, so he must be telling porkies. Similarly, how can the bible be inerrant when it says tons of stuff that my gut doesn’t want it to and misses out space for me to write my own gospel.
The problem with being right all the time is that most people seem to utterly resist the idea, which leads me to get het up and throw my rhetorical toys out of the pram. My prayer often goes something like this: ‘Dear God, thanks so much for giving me this unparalleled degree of insight into how the world should be. Please give me opportunities to share this awesome knowledge that I have—err, I mean that you gave me’. Maybe that wouldn’t sound totally vile if I was referring to sharing the gospel. But actually, most of the time, my guns are all blazing about mere molehills. Yesterday, for instance, a woman literally pushed in front of me in the queue at the bike shop in the market. I mean, who does that? Was she raised by werewolves? And today, the lady at the till in Sainsbury’s didn’t even give me my shopping for free despite the fact I had been queuing for at least 4 minutes 30 seconds, and had shifted my weight from one leg to another five times so that she really knew I was miffed. Such miscarriages of justice are almost enough to make me wish I wasn’t right all the time. But, in my instants of martyrdom, I remind myself that the initial writers of my life-story and the post-revisionists will look upon me with sympathy and praise. (Revisionists may beg to differ but that’s because they’re wannabe hipsters).
Okay, so that may be slightly hyperbolic, but honestly, something resembling those thoughts did truly pass my mind. And when I did a double-take at the gunkiness of my heart, I was pretty shocked at the resemblance between the essence of my prayer and that of the Pharisee in Luke 18:
“The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'”
Moments of self-revelation like that are great, because you then immediately feel like you can be the tax collector, i.e. the ostensible good guy in the parable.
“But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’
But here’s where I get caught in a catch 22 because my prayer instead becomes: “Thank you God for making me humble like the tax-collector. I’m so glad I am not one of those cheesy-smile, fake-tan Christians who pretend everything’s alright all the time”.
And we’re back at square one… awesome.
The truth is I am endlessly keen to bring something to Jesus’ table that no one else did. I want to win God’s approval, and I want Him to pat me on the back and say ‘y’know Florrie, you were right about all of it; such a shame that sin business got in the way of everyone seeing it’. But in fact, none of us have anything to offer: we all share a total need for mercy, so deep that any pennies we think we can throw in are just lost in the darkness. So the solution is equally collective. Never us, only ever Jesus. And since even if I am right, I never do being right right (follow?), and I probably am in fact wrong most of the time, it cannot really be any other way.
Plus, how much does God care that we all look right all the time?
“You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” (Matthew 27:40-44)
Crazy, the most right and least conceited man to ever walk the earth, prepared to appear an utterly arrogant liar and a failure (at least for the next couple of days). All for me, the one who vocally splits hairs over the correct use of apostrophes… I like that that leaves me speechless: it means I have nothing to be right about.