When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister . . .” Genesis 12:11-13
I once met a guy who, while incarcerated, got sober and found faith. When he got out, he wanted to share his faith with his old friends. So, he went to see them and found them using drugs. He realized that to have credibility with them, he had to use drugs too. In his addiction, he convinced himself that God wanted him to use. He was dead serious – It was God’s will for him to relapse. He didn’t stay out of jail very long.
Unfortunately, I’ve been there. Working nights in the Emergency Room warped my sleeping pattern. When I’d switch back to working days, I’d struggle with sleeping at night. I knew what would make me sleep though – a stiff dose of opioids. God wants me to be a good doctor. To be a good doctor, I must get some sleep. To sleep, I need some pills. Therefore, God wants me to use pills. Even before I was addicted to opioids, I engaged in tortured logic to make wrong seem right.
I didn’t invent cognitive distortion though. In today’s passage, Abram engaged in similarly twisted logic. In the story, Abram and his family ventured into Egypt, where Abram worried that he’d be killed so someone could take his attractive wife, Sarai. So, Abram hatched a plot in which they’d all pretend Sarai was his sister. Eventually Sarai ended up in the Pharaoh’s home and his bed. At first, it seemed like Abram’s selfish plan was working out, until God struck Pharaoh’s house with plagues. In the end, Pharaoh was the voice of reason. Why would you do something so stupid?
This twisted logic is what Alcoholics Anonymous calls Stinking Thinking – those cognitive distortions we all have. It seems our appetite for self-destructive behaviors is exceeded only by our ability to justify those same behaviors. At some point, we all try to rationalize the absurd. If I watch pornography, it will keep me from having an affair. God wants me to watch porn. Using such corrupt thinking, we can make any wrong seem right. The only defense against this, is to engage in painful honesty, attempting to look at things from God’s point of view. What is truly wright and wrong here? What would this look like if someone else were doing it? When we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we’ll see that often, we’re simply justifying evil because it’s what we want.