Arrogant know-it-alls stir up discord, but wise men and women listen to each other’s counsel (Proverbs 13:10).
I came across this verse one morning in The Message Bible, and read it out loud to Bryan. I’ve come across a lot of arrogant know-it-alls in my life, and had one in particular I was thinking about as I read it. Knowing exactly what I was thinking, Bryan says, “Yeah, but by definition, the arrogant person is going to believe he is the wise person, and all who disagree with him are stirring up discord.”
My response? “Yes, but I know the truth!”
We laughed, and Bryan went back to work, and I went on to more reading. But as I did, something nagged at me – the thought that I often act like an arrogant know-it-all.
All current trains of thought seem to be pointing me in this direction, lately. I can’t seem to escape the fact that I am no different from those I have hated. For the last year I’ve been dissecting several difficult relationships – relationships that are now, or have in the past been paralyzing, broken, stalled, or otherwise disrupted.
Recently, in regards to one particular relationship, I had a Kaiser Soze moment in which everything I had believed to be true suddenly flashed before my eyes in a montage of new realization: that which I judged this person for, I was also guilty of.
Realizing this triggered a domino affect which knocked down several assumptions I’d made in other difficult relationships as well. In my quest for personal justice, in my pointing out the speck in one person’s eye, I was unaware of the log in my own eye. I was crying out for justice and retribution, without recognizing my own need for grace and mercy.
Sufjan Stevens wrote a song about the famous serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, Jr., who apparently raped and killed 27 boys and buried them in a crawl space under his house. In the last lines of the song, Stevens sings,
And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid
This is a haunting admission, and captures the essence of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
These are not easy things to hear, particularly when faced with real injustice and true offense. It’s not easy to extend grace, to forgive, to search my heart for understanding, to identify with that common denominator of sin. I would rather put myself first than put Peace first. I would rather see punishment than reconciliation. I would rather be right than gracious.
But Jesus is transforming my heart. He’s telling me to quit reading the Bible as if it was written for somebody else. He is filling my heart with compassion, and when it comes to one particular person, I actually feel genuine love toward and acceptance of him. Miraculously, I no longer look at him through a lens of judgment. I don’t even look down on him with arrogant compassion.
Instead I feel a sense of camaraderie with him. Kinship. I recognize that I am really just like him, and that maybe there’s hope we could be drawn closer by our shared flaws.
As for the “one particular know-it-all” I thought of when reading the Proverb, I’m still working on it. I’ve written several drafts of a letter. I’ve tried to imagine peace. I’ve tried to imagine a future as friends rather than enemies. And slowly, these images are taking shape. They are coming into focus, and my heart does not clench in anger as much when I think about it.
But I had to first consider my own offenses, I had to consider my own heart. I had to stop pointing outwardly, and start looking inward. It has been a painful year in this regard, but I feel a sense of purging, of cleansing, of dead weight being lifted from my shoulders.
The pains of labor are birthing new eyes and a new mind, and I am hopeful.