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I am better than you.

March 8, 2011

Two men went up into a church to pray, one a ‘Christian’ and the other a ‘sinner.’ The Christian stood and said, ‘God, thanks that I’m not like other people: drunks, addicts, adulterers, or even like this sinner.’

I recently finished reading Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God. In this book Keller explains the meanings behind the Bible story we often call “The Prodigal Son.” [Book spoiler, skip if you don’t want to know yet] Basically, there are two kinds of people in the world: younger brothers and elder brothers. Younger brothers are non-religious, self-indulgent and rebellious (to name a few). Elder brothers are religious, morally upright and prideful (to name a few). It’s a fascinating read, I highly recommend. As I was thinking recently about how I think about and respond to people in general, I realized that I fall into the elder brother category pretty much every time. I really do think I’m better than others, especially unbelievers. I secretly look down on a lot of people because I see them as ignorant or not morally acceptable, just like the ‘Christian’ in the story above. “Thanks that I’m not like other people…”

But the sinner, 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, a sinner!

It seems like in the Bible all the “sinners” and non-religious people are the ones who get it. They’re the ones who see their need (the point of most of Jesus’ parables it seems). The ‘sinner’ in this story from Luke knows he is no better than anyone else, and probably considers himself pretty lowly. So should we all, consider ourselves lowly. At the end of the story of the prodigal son, the father is pleading for his older son to come into the party and celebrate, but the story leaves us hanging because the son doesn’t make a decision. We hope he leaves his pride and selfish entitlement issues at the door, but we don’t know. I am not better just because I know the answers and I’m all neat and tidy on the outside, but I am in a more dangerous place spiritually. Elder brothers beware.

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