It’s nice to be proved right. The blog I wrote about Sr Harriet (see Fixed on God, August 22nd 2022) made it clear that I could not be certain that I had found the correct Harriet Johnson; yet, reading through the Community Diaries earlier this year, I found a brief, unexpected entry which confirmed that I had. On February 28th 1947, it states ‘Isabel Johnson, Sr Harriet’s daughter, was buried in Ditchingham Cemetery’ – or so my transcript says. Sr Harriet’s daughter was actually Isabella, and at this point in time, I can’t be certain whether I copied it wrongly, or whether the original says Isabel. But, be that as it may, it does confirm that my researches into Sr Harriet’s past are accurate. Sr Harriet died in 1922 when our Sisters were buried in the ‘CAH’ section of Ditchingham Cemetery, so Isabella was buried in the same graveyard as her mother.
In this case, it is nice to have my researches confirmed, but needing to be right can become an unnecessary burden. If only because we aren’t always. It can mean we over-react, if we are proved wrong, and it can also mean that we need to shift the weight of ‘wrongness’ onto others. If I am right, then you must be wrong. If you disagree with me, you are wrong, as opposed to merely holding a different opinion. It can push us to a certainty as to our own selves, our own correctness, which is at odds with Christianity’s insistence that all have sinned; or it can push us into the other direction, where we can must be stupid, because we are not always right. It can mean our opinion of ourselves is rooted in whether or not we are right, not in the fact that we are beloved by God. It can push us into defending our views, blocking our ability to actually hear the arguments of those who disagree. It may even make us more susceptible to the opinions of those who are convinced of their own rightness, and draw us into groups whose conviction may be their only recommendation. It could also mean we judge others by our own views, and not by who they are; and isolate groups and individuals who disagree with us.
That is not to say that all views and actions that are opposed to ours are necessarily right. There are beliefs which are not only unhelpful, but can be dangerous and are generally recognised as wrong, such as racist views and behaviours. It is also true that there is nothing wrong in actually being right; there is certainly nothing wrong in trying to be as accurate as possible, in what we say or write. It is the need to be, the drive to be on the correct side that is potentially dangerous. Not only to ourselves, or to others around us, but also to our God, and our relationship with God. For if we need to be right when we come before God, if we need God to confirm that we are right, where does that leave our ability to truly perceive the amazing nature of God’s love, or how we come before God in repentance? If we need to be right, how can we truly acknowledge our sins and failings? Except, of course, by acknowledging that need to be right as one of our failings, and all that comes from it.
Does it not also put us in an interesting position vis-à-vis God? If I come before God as right, what room does that leave God to be God, as opposed to a deity confirming our opinion of ourselves (good or bad)? For God’s estimation of us will not agree with our estimation of our selves – nor of those others whom we judge or condemn because they disagree with us. There are also times when we need to speak up for truth and justice; when we need some confirmation that this is right. Think of all the heresies in early church history, and how those debates shaped the truths of our faith. Someone had to stand up and say ‘actually this is not the Christian truth’. Still today, there are issues where we need to have the confidence to stand up and say ‘this is the way to go’, whether around faith-based issues or not. But there are other issues where we may need to have the humility to say ‘this is what I believe, but I will listen and try to understand why you believe differently’; issues where, to condemn without understanding, may make matters worse, and harden divisions. Deciding which is which may be a complicated question in itself.
Ultimately, we follow a God who is Love; a God who calls us to love; a God whose way of discipleship is one of love. That may be a better way of living than one of right and wrong. What is the most loving way in this situation? How do I respond to this as a follower of a God of love? What would God, who is love, do in this situation? To be a follower of God is to acknowledge, beyond all else, that there is a Being who knows more than us, who Loves more than us; and it is to know that God’s way may not be ours. That is why, while it may be nice to be proved right on occasion, it should not be the be-all and end-all of our lives; that should be the God we follow; the God who is Love, and whose Love should be becoming the centre of all we are, do and say.