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Behind the Mask

(March’s Verse)

How many people live in denial? Denial about how bad their finances are, their marriage, their health? Sometimes it seems easier to bury our heads in the sand than to do the hard work of facing reality and seeking to change it.

I’ve been reading a book called ‘Wilful Blindness’ by Margaret Heffernan which is full of examples of denial and the factors which lead to it. Some of the stories are shocking like the one from Libby, Montana, where bosses of a vermiculite mine knew for 30 years that the employees were dying of asbestosis and did nothing about it. Staggeringly the medical fraternity knew about it and took x-rays to study the disease without letting patients know there was a problem. And more staggeringly, the townspeople refused to accept the truth, and fought against getting help while family members sat on their verandas breathing with oxygen tanks.

From banks to businesses, to hospitals, from corporations to individuals, wilful blindness is rife. Heffernan writes, “You cannot fix a problem that you refuse to acknowledge.” But, she says, you will be held responsible for it. What’s that got to do with us? A lot, I suspect. There may be many areas of life where we are practising wilful blindness, some serious, some not so.

But first and foremost we do it with ourselves. The Bible tells us we are sinful, more sinful than we realise. Yet that is not a fashionable truth. We prefer to find a mask to hide behind—we are victims; we are not as bad as others; we do our best; we try to keep up appearances…

In his book ‘The People of the Lie’, Scott Peck says that the heart of sin is the persistent refusal to tolerate a sense of our sin. We are simultaneously aware of our guilt and yet desperately trying to resist that awareness. Keep running, keep doing, keep up the appearances, whatever you do don’t stand still long enough to see yourself as you really are.

Cornelius Plantinga writes, “We deny, suppress, or minimize what we know to be true. We assert, adorn and elevate what we know to be false. We prettify ugly realities and sell ourselves the prettified versions. We know the truth—and yet we do not know it, because we persuade ourselves of its opposite… We make up reality as we go along.”

And the tension of living in denial is etched across our lives. How much stress, fear or anxiety is caused by living in the fear of the truth about ourselves? And all the while there is an easier option:

“He who conceals his sins does not prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

God calls us to honesty with him for he is not fooled by our masks. If we come humbly with our masks off seeking forgiveness through Jesus, we will find mercy and also God’s help to change. Otherwise he will hold us responsible.