Do You Have a BA Degree?
1 Kings 19:14: "And he said, I have been very jealous for Jehovah, the God of hosts;
for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars,
and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left;
and they seek my life, to take it away."
A college president was telling how years of association with students left him uncertain
whether the degree BA stands for Bachelor of Arts or Builder of Alibis.
Many students have gone to school and have had failing grades and have excused themselves
with alibis such as the professor had it in for me, or many other alibis.
Students are not alone in making alibis work for them instead of honestly taking the blame
Excuses, evasions, rationalizations are used by all of us.
They are convenient devices to soothe our complacency and our egotism.
Many of us cannot bear to be put in the wrong.
We are on our feet in an instant protesting, explaining, and arguing.
Judging by what psychologists tells us about the defense mechanisms of the mind,
the strongest motives determining behavior are not those which spring from the impulses
and instincts which we share with the animals, such as hunger or self-preservation;
they are those which spring from the desire for self-vindication.
People don't always appreciate that some of the really wise psychology is found in the Bible.
It is a psychology that is true to life and always up-to-date.
Remember Elijah, and the sad aftermath of the triumph on Mount Carmel.
Elijah, who single-handed, fearlessly confronted the prophets of Baal,
rose and ran for his life to escape from the taunts and threats of a woman.
When you find him in his hiding place in the wilderness, just listen to what he is saying:
"Not I am a coward, a poor apology for a prophet,"
but, he said, "I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away."
His defense mechanism was at work.
He was using alibis to excuse himself from any self blame.
This is a clear example of what psychologists call rationalization.
His mind is focused on a compromise which will give him a bit of peace.
He could be charged with conscious hypocrisy.
He is evading the facts, but he is not consciously aware that he is.
Elijah is emphasizing a fact -- he is alone in Israel -- which, while that much is true
as far as it goes, is irrelevant.
It is obscuring the fact, that he has shirked his duty, deserted his post,
and has been frightened out of his wits by Jezebel.
In the New Testament there is a case which is slightly different.
Judas grumbled vocally, when Mary broke the alabaster box of perfume,
and poured it over the feet of Jesus.
He complained that the perfume might have been sold for 300 pence, and could be given to the poor.
Judas was rationalizing.
His estimate of the cost of the perfume was probably accurate,
but the reference to the poor was a defense mechanism of his mind.
He covered up the greed which prevented him from seeing any purpose or beauty
in what he called, "this waste."
He was evading the ugly facts about himself, but he may have been unaware
that he was evading them.
What we call our conscious mind is only a small part of our total mind.
An illustration emphasizing this is a picture of that of an iceberg floating in the ocean.
One-ninth of it is visible above the surface, and eight-ninths of it is hidden below the surface.
This is a picture describing how our mind.
Underneath our self-conscious processes of thought and will are our unconscious processes,
obscurely motivated passions, impulses, prejudices, illusions and delusions, likes and dislikes.
It isn't a simple matter for any of us to put a finger on the ugly facts about ourselves.
They slip so easily into the unconscious.
We are born rationalizers.
A Sunday school teacher told a pastor that he had become an atheist,
and he was ready to provide an argument for his atheism.
He seemed genuinely of the opinion that his denial of belief in God was intellectually grounded.
But it was not.
Like a great deal of atheism, it was emotionally grounded.
A few talks with friends brought out the fact that the girl to whom the Sunday school teacher
was engaged had eloped with a fellow Sunday school teacher.
That was what accounted for the atheism.
The reasoned argument in its support was an unconscious rationalization,
a false reason because the true one was repugnant and would have dealt a severe blow
to his self esteem.
We all use alibis to avoid self blame.
When we make a mistake, it is just a slip.
When somebody else makes it, it is a blunder -- a sin.
What for us is righteous indignation, in another is bad temper.
What for us is a clever stroke of business, in a fellow competitor is unethical behavior.
A man tells himself that he is merely indulging in a harmless flirtation;
but a woman might believe that romance and love has come in to her life at last.
They are rationalizing, dressing up reprehensible conduct in an idealistic light,
turning a blind eye on and indefensible courses of action, persuading themselves
that they are actuated by worthy motives.
The words with which they should be facing their consciences are nasty words
because they stand for nasty things -- words like fornication and adultery.
There is another defense mechanism of the mind which psychologists call projection.
The word may sound like a modern psychological term, but it is as ancient as the hills.
To get a clear illustration of what is meant by projection, there is a great definition
that you will find in the Bible.
After David had done a very contemptible thing in the matter of the wife of Uriah, the Hittite
-- not only had he taken Bathsheba from Uriah, but he had him put in the front line of the battle
so that he would be killed.
The prophet, Nathan, came and told David the story of a rich man with many flocks and herds
who took a poor man's one ewe lamb.
David was passionately indignant with the rich man, and condemned him to death there and then.
It never occurred to him, until Nathan courageously declared, "Thou art the man,"
that the story was an exact portrayal of his own conduct.
He had repressed the memory of it and the guilt of it -- memory and guilt alike had come
into his unconscious where they were not dead and buried,
but where they were festering and ulcerating, and he gained a measure of relief,
as we all do, by projecting, by being angry with his own sin when he saw it in someone else.
That is a true defense mechanism which condemns others of what we are guilty
of ourselves, but refuse to admit.
It is true that in judging others, we bare our secret sins for all to see.
We personalize our unrecognized failings, and we hate in others the very faults
to which we are secretly addicted.
We are annoyed with the incompetence of others because we refuse to admit
our own real incompetence.
Most of our motions are directed against ourselves.
We are intolerant of the lazy ways of others because this tendency is a constant temptation to us.
We condemn bigotry, meanness, or cynicism of others because we are potential bigots,
misers and cynics.
We cannot bear conceited people because we are conceited without realizing it.
An easy-going tolerance is often merely the projection of our tolerant attitude
toward our own hidden sins.
Sometimes, we will forgive in others what we desire to forgive in ourselves
for by doing so we temper the sting of self-condemnation.
Each time we judge, we need to look in the mirror, and say, "Thou art the man!"
What is behind all these defense mechanisms?
It is because we have a Degree of Alibis.
We will not acknowledge the ugly facts of which we may not even be conscious
-- that is, aware of them.
It was cowardice in the case of Elijah.
It was greed in the case of Judah.
It was adultery and murder in the case of David.
People repress into their unconscious desires, impulses, feelings which they refuse
to acknowledge because the acknowledgment would be distasteful
and would be a blow to their self-esteem.
Just as we disassociate ourselves from those who have insulted us,
so we refuse to identify ourselves with our faults and our weaknesses.
This is how unethical behavior, immoral conduct, censoriousness, selfishness and pride
become dissociated, and we are practically unaware of their existence.
If two people have a quarrel, and come separately and tell you about it,
you will notice that their respective accounts of what happened differ,
sometimes, to a surprising extent.
This is not always because one of them is telling lies, or both of them,
but because they each repress, and therefore fail to remember or recognize the weak points
in their own case.
There is a story of a Carthusian monk who was explaining to a stranger the starting points
of his little known Order.
"As for learning, we are not to be compared to the Jesuits," he said.
"When it comes to good works, we don't match the Franciscans,
and as to preaching, we are not in a class with the Dominicans."
"But," he concluded, "when it comes to humility, we are tops."
Behind all defense mechanisms of the mind are ugly facts which we will not acknowledge
and of which we may not even be conscious.
Why are ugly facts kept out of our consciousness?
It is because we must stand tall in our own eyes.
We cannot afford to forfeit self respect for when that goes practically everything goes.
It has been said that to have good firm relations with others we must have
good domestic relations with ourselves.
Contempt from those about us is difficult to bear, but may God pity the wretch
who has contempt for himself.
We will go to almost any length to preserve a certain kind of self respect, such as:
projection, fantasy, compensation, rationalization, repression,
and one defense mechanism after another.
And all this because we cannot endure to be in the wrong.
We have to find some way of assuring ourselves that we are all right,
some way of holding our heads up, facing the world, and staying on-the-job.
Without some sort of self-acceptance, there is nothing for us.
We may be all right with ourselves, even if it means making wrong seem right.
But to make wrong seem right, to ignore, repress, and forget it, will not dispose of it.
It goes down into the unconscious and works its mischief there, festering and ulcerating.
For the unconscious is not only a storehouse -- it is also a factory.
Guilt feelings are not disposed of when they are distinguished -- they are only covered up.
They are not dead and buried.
Though they are underground; they are very much alive.
That is demonstrated by the fashion in which a sentence in a sermon or a novel
or a scene in a film or play or in a chance meeting will bring them right up
from the unconscious to the conscious level of the mind.
Much of the hypertension, neurasthenia, and neurosis of our day comes
from the failure of people to live with themselves, and to adapt not only to their environment,
but also to themselves.
We must be right with ourselves, but the only way to be that is to face the facts about ourselves.
If you have a bad temper, don't disguise the fact or ignore it, but acknowledge it.
If you have a strong addiction, don't turn a blind eye to it, but recognize it for what it is.
There was the man who looked at himself in a mirror for some minutes,
and then said out loud, "You dirty old man."
And after that, he went out and began to live life all over again.
To live happily with yourself, you must be honest with yourself.
Alibis, evasions, rationalizations are all mischief makers.
Think of what the Bible has to say about that.
Think of Jacob at Peniel.
He had deceived his father Isaac, his brother Esau, his uncle Laban, and as a result
of his crafty dealing was a prosperous man.
But he never stopped long enough to look at himself.
He had been running away from himself for a long time.
At Peniel he had it out with himself.
"What kind of man am I?
What is my real character?"
He wrestled all night, not only with God, but with something evil in himself,
and after a long struggle, he got down to rock bottom.
"I am Jacob -- a deceiver."
And it was then, evasions were done with, disguises were set aside, and he became a new man.
He was no more Jacob, but Israel -- a prince with God.
The same miracle of transformation took place in the Prodigal Son.
It was when he was honest with himself -- with merciless honesty, that he said, "I have sinned."
It was then that he came to see his true self.
A new chapter of his life began that very day.
A new chapter can begin for you, if, you will say goodbye to self-excuses, self-pity, self-defense,
and face the facts about yourself.
You must get right down to them and face them instead of running away from them,
and if you will say to yourself, "Yes, that's the kind of person I am, and that is the sort of thing
that I'm capable of doing and have done, but by the grace of God, I can be different, and I will be."
To be right with yourself, you must be closer to God.
Just as soon as the prodigal acknowledged, "I have sinned," that he resolved,
"I will arise and go to my father."
This is what Jesus urges us to do today.
When we see ourselves for what we really are, and are ashamed of ourselves,
and have difficulty accepting ourselves, we can be sure of one thing -- God will accept us.
God can deliver us from self-pity, self excuses, and self-defense.
Though we are tied and bound with chains of our sins, yet in His great mercy,
He will free us from our bondage.
He will enpower us to live nobly and courageously.
He sees beneath our worst and what we can be at our best, and He will help us
to believe in ourselves because of His faith in us.
He calls us to do what is fine and splendid in us.
He quickens our hope, He revives our faith, and He will help us to begin life afresh.
In the presence of God our littleness is apparent, but He will help us overcome and be victorious.
It humbles us, and yet it exalts us.
He challenges us, inspires us, and energizes us.
Nothing will produce a greater happiness.
Nothing will ever give such a sense of well-being.
Nothing will ever bring a deeper peace.
"I will arise and go to Jesus;
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior;
O there are ten thousand charms."
-- By Joseph Hart, 1759
Sermon adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White