One Way You Deceive Yourself

Have you ever set your clock a few minutes ahead of the actual time in order to help get yourself out of bed or to a meeting on time? If so, then you know that there are some times in which we try to intentionally deceive ourselves. This kind of deception doesn’t last long since we know that the clock is five minutes fast. After all we are the ones who set it!

While this kind of self deception feels so harmless that it barely deserves the name, there are other other ways that we deceive ourselves that are far more serious because they prevent us from knowing and believing truth. In his book I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life, Gregg A. Ten Elshof shares several ways that self deception occurs.

One is through what he refers to in the book as Attention Management. “Through attention management, I exercise a degree of control over what comes into my mind. And this, in turn, affects what I believe.”

Think about the person who takes in news almost exclusively from one source or a few highly filtered sources. This person is going to hear only one side of a debate and it shouldn’t come as a surprise when he comes to believe in the side that he’s been listening to. Imagine a person who watches FOX News or MSNBC–two networks with radically different perspectives and agendas. If you get all your news and political reporting from one of those networks, you are far more likely to find yourself in agreement with them.

The same is true in theology. One of the primary reasons that I went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to get my theological training is because of the diversity of views held by the faculty. I was taught by professors who all held to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture but who had different views on baptism, God’s sovereignty, women in the church, dispensational and covenantal theology, charismatic gifts, etc… That meant that I got to hear proponents of each view explain why they thought their position was biblical.

Let’s take that back to politics for a second. If you are a conservative (or a liberal, it applies to both equally), do you read people who disagree with you? Do you read liberals who explain their position or do you only know the other sides view through the eyes of those who disagree with them? If you are pro life do you read those who are pro choice or do you only know the pro choice position through the eyes of your favorite pro life spokesman? If you are a liberal, do you read conservatives or do you only know the conservative position because you read it in the column written a liberal editorial board? If you are a Christian, do you ever read the atheists or do you only know what they believe because your favorite Christian writer told you?

When you read those who you disagree with my guess is that, in most cases, you’ll find at least these things to be true…

1. The people who disagree with you sincerely hold their beliefs. Even if they are wrong, the vast majority aren’t evil people trying to bring down the world.
2. Some of their arguments are better and more reasonable than you thought.

3. You share more in common than you thought.
4. Your views probably won’t change but you might decide that they need to be adjusted, modified, or tweaked.

At the risk of writing too much, let me throw out another application of this same point. If you surround yourself with friends who won’t say hard things to you, then you are in jeopardy of being self deceived. If your friends won’t say things like, “You drink too much,” “You spend too much,” “You yell at your kids inappropriately,” then you have a problem. Your problem is either that you don’t have the right kind of friends or that you don’t give them permission to say hard things to you without paying a high relational price. 

Don’t fall into the trap of focusing solely on those people or information sources that tell you only what you want to hear or what you already believe.

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