He stood with his fists raised in open aggression. But as he spoke he was swaying a little – ‘Come on – I can take on the lot of you.’ One of the approaching Police Officers attempted to calm him down – but he was having none of it. He swung his fists wildly – but only succeeded in tripping forward and falling to the ground. Still shouting, swearing and threading violence he was lifted up by the Officer closest to him and led to the nearby police car.
Old John (not his real name or photograph) was well known to local Police Officers and was a regular guest in the cells at their Police Station. In the morning he would be apologetic and, for a few days or weeks, become, once again, something of a sane and sensible citizen. Inevitably though, the temptation would be too great and, in the face of Johnny Walker (Whiskey), he would again loose his sober judgement. And, once again, in so doing, his ability to reason that one very drunk man could not take on two or three sober Police Officers would go out the window.
Sadly, I knew many like John in another life. But at least you knew the cause of John’s problem and you knew how to deal with him in any given situation. But there is, I believe, a far more insidious intoxication leading to a loss of sober judgement that can be much more dangerous than that brought on by Johnny Walker.
In fact the Apostle Paul talks about it in the Bible –
‘For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly .. ‘
(Romans 12:3 NKJV)
The advice given here has come to me a number of times in various situations and, I think, is a great rule for life. For instance it is good to ask this question in the light of what others say to us and about us – because here lies an intoxicating trap for some people – good people, wise people, very spiritual people and people who become popular within their circles of influence. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
We have all met people who, I suspect, have no regard whatsoever for this rule – and are what we sometimes call ‘Big Headed’. So confident are they in their superiority or ability that others are taken in – sometimes with disastrous consequences for an individual, church or company. Personally I am very uncomfortable with such people and tend to give them a wide berth.
However, there are others, good people, sadly, who fall into this trap because they listen, without sober judgement, to the praise and adulation of others – sometimes friends, would be friends or even a spouse. Imperceptibly to them, they begin to move in to ‘Big Head’ territory. I have seen this happen a number of times. So shocking has this been to me, that, on a number of occasions, at first I thought they were joking – not believing what I have actually heard them say or write – because it had appeared, uncharacteristically, so full of pride, self promotion or big headedness. The fact that they changed so radically from the people they once were has been alarming, surprising and depressing to me all at the same time. Such intoxication can also drive a great wedge through relationships as the opportunity for honest conversation is masked by their new and inflated perception of themselvs.
Of course it should also be recognised that the opposite can be true. I spoke recently to a very gifted and highly qualified friend who confided that they had never received encouragement or recognition in early life. In fact this person was shocked when an older lady told her how she admired her and gave her unreserved affirmation and encouragement. It is not pride or intoxication to recognise one’s own giftings and talents – indeed not to do so also falls outside a ‘Sober Judgement’ of ourselves. At times the balance here can indeed be a fine one.
One of the issues associated with a loss of ‘Sober Judgement’ is an almost terminal decline in the ability to hear negative criticism. And perhaps this is where the real danger lies – for what could be a rare case of ‘Big Headedness’ (and who of us has not had one!) turns in to an unteachable spirit and deafness which will brook no advice or warning. The end in such cases can be truly tragic. No wonder the Apostle Peter says –
‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’
1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)
And the devouring aspect of losing a sober judgement of yourself can be very real. In some cases, and I have seen this happen, a person can become totally self absorbed, self devoured – coming to believe they are God’s greatest gift to humanity since sliced bread. Ok, so perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration – but you get the point! And when that point is reached all kinds of danger lurks around such a person. In fact I believe it is what cults are made of. Such people became a clear and present danger, within the Christian community in particular.
So please stay real, use sober judgement at all times, don’t believe everything people say about you and avoid those who have an over inflated opinion of themselvs.
The Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 (NLT)
I wrote this article a few weeks ago but until today did not feel comfortable sharing it. Perhaps I didn’t write it with the proper attitude, I’m not sure. However, a few days ago I heard of an old friend who I suspect may have fallen in to this trap. Now, some years later, along with many who followed him, he is suffering as a result. Initially, on hearing the news, I felt what I had written was justified – but almost immediately felt a great weight of sorrow and compassion for those involved. So now, what you have read above is offered – not from the cold heart of condemnation but one of deep and heartfelt sorrow and regret that this can and does happen to people who start out with a good heart.