“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts,” Proverbs 21:2 KJV.
What is your purpose in life? Do you have a well-defined goal? The account is shared of a man who entered a village for the first time and saw a great many targets with an arrow in the exact center of each one. He concluded that there must be an expert marksman in the village and asked who he was. He was told that the village idiot was the one who did this. Upon meeting him, the man said, “You must be an expert shot. How is it that you can always hit the bull’s eye?” “Oh, that’s easy,” replied the idiot. “I shoot first and draw the circles afterward.”
Isn’t that the way life is with many people? They do what they want to do first, and then draw circles of rationalization about their lives.
Rationalization is a maverick member of a respectable family. It’s good to be rational, but it’s dangerous to rationalize. Now before you ask, “What’s the difference?” let’s look at some definitions. Rational means, “based on, or derived from reason, able to reason, reasoning, in possession of one’s reason, showing reason, not foolish or silly, sensible.” We like to think that this is exactly the type of people we are. Right? Rationalize, in the setting used above, means to “devise superficially rational, or plausible, explanations or excuses for (one’s acts, beliefs, desires, et cetera) without being aware that these are not the real motives.”
The lame excuses we offer for not being better Christians are mostly rationalization.
A good example is the response of the different guests in Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast. They all began, one after another, to make excuses. The first one told the servant, “I bought a field and have to go back and look at it; please accept my apologies.” Another one said, “I bought five pairs of oxen and am on my way to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another one said, “I have gotten married, and for this reason, I cannot come,” Luke 14: 18-20 TEV. These were excuses used to hide the grim truth that they simply didn’t wish to attend the feast.
Like the village idiot, they shot the arrow of decision first, and then drew the circle of rationalization around it.
Finally, the most notable character in the Scriptures who encountered the painful challenge of facing himself and his tendency to rationalize his behavior was Peter. After he denied his Savior, I listen carefully to a man who had to face his rationality.
I hear sobbing. It is the sound not just of weeping, but the gut-wrenching moans of a man deeply shocked, ashamed, and humbled. He’s afraid of the monster of rationalization that he now knows lives within. I see him stumbling through a wilderness while scratching and tearing his flesh on limbs and briars hidden by the darkness. He’s unconscious of the pain and damage to his body because the pain inside is unbearable. He falls and he gets up. He runs and he runs. The problem is, no matter how far or how long he runs, he cannot escape the mon- ster of rationalization inside, because he is the monster. He has unconsciously run to the Garden of Gethsemane. Hours earlier in this same spot, a gentle voice had awakened him and said, “Peter, you need to pray, brother.” It was the most painful challenge of Peter’s life. It was the experience of facing himself, and his convenient escape hatch of drawing a circle around his rationalization.
Watch carefully today lest you catch yourself doing the same thing.
Ron C. Smith, D.Min., Ph.D. President of the Southern Union Conference
Southern Union | November 2020