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Why We're Tempted to Pull Ourselves up by Dragging Others Down

Ryan Denison | Denison Forum | Friday, January 13, 2023
Why We're Tempted to Pull Ourselves up by Dragging Others Down

Why We're Tempted to Pull Ourselves up by Dragging Others Down


After a second batch of classified documents was found in the garage at President Biden’s home in Delaware, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced yesterday that Robert Hur has been appointed to serve as a special counsel and lead the investigation into the mishandling of the documents.

Hur, a veteran prosecutor who worked in the Trump administration, was chosen, in part, to demonstrate impartiality by the justice department. Given the already heated nature of the discourse surrounding the president, proceeding with an awareness of public perception was wise. It remains to be seen, however, if any such efforts can stymie the allegations of partiality that have already begun to flow from Republican leaders.

Representative James Comer of Kentucky—the chairman of the House Oversight Committee—promised that his committee would look into the matter, even after a special counsel was named. And former President Donald Trump was quick to ask “When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?”

The comparisons to the raid on Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House with at least forty-eight boxes of materials—containing upwards of three hundred classified documents—have been among the most pronounced points of contention from Republicans.

As Declan Garvey and Esther Eaton write for The Dispatch, “Trump has a fresh target across the aisle for finger-pointing as he downplays his own mishandling of presidential and classified documents.” And, as they go on to argue, that desire to pull oneself up by dragging others down is among the most universally damning aspects of this story.

"Unacceptable" explanations

In that same Dispatch article, Klon Kitchen—a senior fellow and national security expert at the American Enterprise Institute—points out that “there are plenty of processes in place to ensure that this [mishandling of classified documents] doesn’t happen. The fact that it has happened means either those processes were deliberately ignored or not thoroughly followed. Either explanation is unacceptable.”

He goes on to argue that “the political problem is now a national security problem. It hurts the interests of the United States when we cannot hold people accountable [for] reckless mishandling of classified material.”

And while Republicans are likely to be just as invested in holding President Biden accountable as Democrats have been toward former President Trump, the most likely outcome now is that neither will face much in the way of legal consequences despite both men making mistakes that could very well warrant them.

My purpose in writing about this story today, however, is less to lament the most likely outcome of these situations than to reflect on why we are so easily tempted to use the mistakes of others as a cover for our own errors.

Our temptation to shift the blame

From the time sin entered the world, humanity’s first instinct when faced with our own mistakes has been to seek ways to shift or share the blame (Genesis 3:12-13). That temptation is particularly troublesome given Scripture’s clear teaching that a repentance in which we take responsibility for our sins is a necessary step toward receiving the Lord’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

But I suspect most of us know that, and when we try to deflect blame it is often more from the desire to normalize our mistakes than to absolve ourselves completely. We don’t mind admitting that we’re sinners; we just don’t want to be chief among them (1 Timothy 1:15).

The truth is, though, God doesn’t care.

Our sins don’t grieve him less because we can point to others who have done the same thing. His standards for morality don’t shift just because fewer people accept them. And it’s been that way from the start.

Be holy because God is holy

I doubt there are many people who would claim Leviticus as their favorite book in the Bible. The lists of laws and prohibitions against sins—often in far greater detail than seem necessary—can be a slog to get through. But it’s still worth our time for several reasons, chief among them the way God repeatedly reminds us about the reason why we are meant to hold ourselves to his standards rather than our own.

In Leviticus 19-21, for example, there are four times when God repeats some variation of “You shall be holy because I am holy” (19:2, 20:7, 20:26, 21:8).

He understood that his people would fail to keep the laws he established, and he knew that they would encounter cultures along their journey into the Promised Land that would not share those standards. When that happened, “because I said so” would be no more effective a motivation for God’s children then as it is for our children today.

He needed them to understand that they were called to be holy because he is holy, and the same has been true for those who follow him ever since. We can never fulfill our calling as a people set apart for relationship with the Lord unless we hold ourselves to the same standards he does.

That can be a hard and humbling way to live, and Scripture never promises that it will be otherwise. However, God’s word does promise that it’s the only way to experience the fullness and purpose only God can provide (Romans 12:1-2).

So the next time you fall short of God’s standards and feel the temptation to justify your sin by pointing out the sins of others, remember why the Lord never intended to give us that option. We are called to be holy because our heavenly Father is holy, and that should be reason enough.

Is it for you?

Publication date: January 13, 2023

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Nadia Bormotova

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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