Topical Studies

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What the Bible says about Rationalization
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 20:15

It is easy to blame our tendency to steal on the lust of human nature. It is certainly true, and if we scrupulously track our desires and rein them in before they overcome us, we will significantly reduce stealing. But what is interesting are the excuses we give ourselves and others for the stealing we do. Unless we keep our conscience razor sharp, it is easily dulled by rationalization.

It is not infrequent to hear someone at work complain, "They won't let you make an honest living any more." The blame for not being scrupulously honest is shifted to "they." People make the same justification at every level. A study of business ethics by a Harvard graduate student revealed that most junior executives place the responsibility for their unethical practices upon the expectations of management.

Sometimes we apply a double standard of judgment to what we consider the rich and the poor or small business and corporations. A child may begin a lifetime of petty theft by justifying the stealing of a toy from a "better off" playmate because "he has lots of toys and won't miss this little one." For the same reason, juries award excessively high damages because a corporation has plenty of money and can afford it, or if they are insured, the insurance company will pay it.

We also distinguish between personal property and public. In our minds, stealing from the government is different from robbing our neighbor. My wife and I once had a landlord who firmly proclaimed that he never stole from his friends!

Ultimately, what we steal from corporations or the government we must pay back in higher prices and taxes. The effect may not be immediate, but it is the only effect that can occur. Neither the corporation's nor the government's pockets are so deep that they can just absorb multiple, individually small losses.

Another double standard is making a distinction between large and small thefts. It is almost as if a small theft is excusable simply because it is small and thus of no account. Some parents, to "save" some money, unwittingly introduce their children to stealing by lying about their age to save a few cents on a bus trip or movie ticket. Hardly any thief begins his life of crime by stealing "big." They begin "small" and work themselves "up the ladder" to more grandiose and exciting adventures in thievery. One can hardly expect a child to develop honor for his parents in an atmosphere of parental thievery.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Eighth Commandment (1997)

Psalm 51:4

David was brought face to face with truth, with reality, with light. The Holy Spirit actually confuted him and convicted him with an overwhelming argument, revealing where wrong and right were, and he could not escape. He dodged the issue for nine months at least, making all kinds of rationalizations, even to the point of bringing about the death of Uriah.

Maybe we would not have done something as criminal as that, but every one of us is guilty of the same thing in principle. We dodge the issue of our sinfulness.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 3)

Jeremiah 17:9

Human nature will try to reassert its dominance in a converted person's life. The word that is translated from Hebrew into the English word "deceitful" means "tortuous, twisted, convoluted." That is the way human nature is—tortuous, twisted, and convoluted in its thinking and reasoning. God is referring to the kind of justifications or rationalizations that it will make to convince a person that it is okay to sin, not to pay attention to the law of God, to say to the self, "It really does not matter. I am only one person."

Note this frank quote from Aldus Huxley, which appears in his book Ends And Means (p. 270):

I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find gratifying reasons for this assumption.

Convoluted, tortuous, twisted. Looking for rationalizations and justifications. Continuing on page 273:

Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don't know because we don't want to know. It is our will that decides how and upon what subjects we shall use our intelligence. . . . Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because for one reason or another it suits their books that the world should be meaningless. . . . We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.

This is how human nature works—the heart twists the truth of God and deceives itself into thinking that, "Well, let us make the assumption that the world and life have no meaning, therefore we can do what we want to do." This is from a highly intelligent human being.

We know that for us to acknowledge and yield to truth will be personally costly, and we often do not want to pay the price, so we allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking it really does not matter if we yield to the wrong thing this time. We will fight the battle the next time it comes up.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sin of Self-Deception


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