The Freedom of Hypocrisy

The Woman Taken in Adultery, oil on oak by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1644
The Woman Taken in Adultery, oil on oak by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1644

Three years ago, in the middle of an argument, a friend called me a hypocrite. I know it doesn’t sound like much but when you’ve spent most of your life playing by the rules, trying to be good, the word feels violently offensive, like a suckerpunch to the ego. When he began questioning the authenticity of my Christianity, something inside of me snapped. It wasn’t long before I made the decision to walk away from the church and its seemingly merry band of finger-pointers.

I call that time of my life my season in the wilderness. Cut loose from a religious institution I had known and loved my whole life, I carried an angry heart. When my friends and I would get together, I would always initiate conversations that started like this: “You know what my problem with the church is?” Then I’d continue on with a semi-rehearsed diatribe. My self-preservation tactic wasn’t much different from that of a jilted lover: point out everything you hate and let these things eclipse every single thing you used to love. I made lists. I wrote blogs. And nobody disagreed with my rage so I fed it.

The things I believed to be wrong about the church as a whole were things that were, in part, true. There were problems in the system, problems with the leadership, problems with the methodology — problems that were bound to arise in any religious (or even secular) body. But I didn’t care. All I knew back then was that if they were going to point a finger, I was more than willing to point one back. I joked then that when Jesus came to rescue an adulterous woman from the Pharisees, what he wrote in the sand mentioned the immutable corrupt nature of the church. It was a self righteous proclamation, that Jesus was on my side and my side only.

One day, me and a friend sat down over coffee.

“So what’s the deal?” she asked. “People have been calling you subversive.”

I rolled my eyes and told her the story from the very beginning.

“Okay. So he called you a hypocrite. So what?”

I blinked. For the first time in a long time, I had no defense ready. There was no ammunition left to fight back.

“So what?” didn’t mean let that offense roll right off your shoulders. “So what?” meant something bigger. “So what?” meant it’s okay.  That night I sat down and neatly put my anger aside. Maybe I AM a hypocrite, I told myself. This time my ego remained intact. I am a hypocrite, I said again. I am a hypocrite, I am a hypocrite, I am a hypocrite — my brain played the statement over and over and over that night. There was something wonderful in being able to finally admit it, to confirm what was truer than true: I am a hypocrite and that’s okay.

We walk with the dualities of life everyday. And though they seem like contradictions, perhaps they are what make equilibrium real. I can be angry at the church and still love her wholeheartedly, I can be both wrong and right, I can be a sinner and still loved: grace allows for all these things to co-exist. There is freedom in being able to embrace that two true ideas can occupy the same space when it comes to being human. I can be a hypocrite and still have the potential to create for myself a true and authentic life.

The knowledge of this, of knowing we are perpetually in the gray, swaying every moment from broken to whole, has helped reshape my view of the world. It used to be easier to cast judgment before, to pick one side of the argument and fight. But these days, my heart holds up a mirror. “She messed up. Remember when you did that, too?” “He lied. You’ve done that also.” “They broke their promise. Well, you’ve been there before.” It seems much more beautiful to see the world this way. Yes, we are all hypocrites. But we are also all struggling with how difficult life can get. Yes, we are all failures. But we are all learning to get back up, to recover, to be better. And while we wrestle with the curse of inconsistency, God doesn’t. He isn’t like us. He’s got a steady heart.

I’ve since made peace with the church and my friend. Jesus, as it turns out, is on both teams and has moved heaven and earth to make all teams one.

When the woman was called by the council on charges of adultery, I am sure she was terrified. She was paraded in front of a crowd, her sin exposed to a world just waiting to give her death. Then Jesus came. He stood for mercy as much as he stood for justice. On that day, he invited everybody to take a look at their own hypocrisy. “May he without sin cast the first stone.” He held a mirror up and she was set free. No one knows what was written in the sand that day but it probably had everything to do with the one thing that binds all hypocrites with hope: redemption.

Header: The Woman Taken in Adultery, oil on oak by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1644. (source)

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