Today I continue with reflections from Blaise Pascal. Pascal will often write what seems like incredible overstatements and then defend them. At first blush some of what Pascal says here will seem like such an overstatement:
“The nature of self-love and of this human Ego is to love self only and consider self only. But what will man do? He cannot prevent this object that he loves from being full of faults and wants…. He wants to be perfect and sees himself full of imperfections. He wants to be the object of love and esteem among men, and he sees that his faults merit only their hatred and contempt…(thus) he devotes all of his attention to hiding his faults both from others and from himself, and he cannot endure either that others should point them out, or that they should see them.
Because we love ourselves and because we know there are parts of ourselves that aren’t so lovely, we devote ourselves to hiding who we are from others and despise when people point out our flaws. If this seems overstated, I assure you that every experience I have had with others includes great difficulty in pointing out things about them that are not positive. It is the rare person who receives critique well. More than that, it is very common to find out that people hide stuff from me (I am a pastor after all) on a consistent basis. People lie to others about themselves and hate to be confronted about the truth about their character.
Thus Pascal says, “Human life is thus only a perpetual illusion; men deceive and flatter each other. No one speaks of us in our presence as he does of us in our absence. Human society is founded on mutual deceit; few friendships would endure if they each knew what his friend said of him in his absence.”
Wow! Can it be that we are really this deceptive? Are we this insecure? Do we live like life is a non-stop masquerade? I think so. But it is not to be so in the family of Jesus, the church. We are to speak the truth to each other in love (Ephesians 4:15), and we are not to gossip (1 Timothy 5:12-13) We are to tell the truth about someone to that someone and not spread damaging words about them to others.
But where do we get the courage and strength for such honesty, both about ourselves as well as the strength to confront others? How do we suspend the masquerade?
I think it would be impossible to stop pretending apart from incredible love, love that we desire for ourselves. Inherent in Christian belief is not that we have to imagine ourselves great, but rather that Jesus’ love for us comes from one who sees behind the mask. Jesus knows us thoroughly but His love for us is perfect. Apart from believing this I would not have the courage to acknowledge freely my insufficiencies. Also, apart from believing this, I would never have the courage to believe someone else would receive anything from me but unrealistic praise.
Yet because I believe in the one who sees beneath my masks, and loves me still—I am freed from the need to lie and to pretend I am great. Thus I trust that others who believe in Him can stop pretending as well. So we are free to love, to suggest corrections, and have no need to gossip. We are free to have true friendship and to leave the masquerade behind.