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  • Stephen D Blum Jr

We need another Simon Cowell..

Updated: May 6

In a recent Bill Whittle video here he discusses the inability of novices in any field to know the extent of their abilities. We all know someone who thinks they are exceptional at something, perhaps singing, playing an instrument, sports, or any skill that requires time and experience to master, when in reality they are terrible.. so terrible that they don’t even realize how terrible they are!

When it’s your child’s first recital or your neighbor’s young son playing a T-ball game we don’t expect much. But as they grow we expect them to gain understanding and improve their abilities, and part of that process is understanding how primitive and limited their initial attempts were.

Whittle explains how sometimes we need to understand how BAD we really are at something to move ahead, learned most often through criticism, a necessary but painful encounter with the truth. Late in the video he cites a scientific principle called the Dunning-Krueger effect which states:

"the less you know about a field, the more highly you rate your ability in that field.. the more you know about a field, the lower you rate your ability in that field."

Hence, the Simon Cowell factor.

Simon Cowell was one of the judges on the original American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent, infamous for his merciless criticism of contestants. Whittle says awarding children (and future adults) “participation trophies” or placing them in classes where no one is allowed to fail sets them up not only for failure, but robs them and future generations of the hard work necessary to excel and succeed. Part of that maturing process can be hearing that we're not there yet, that we suck.

But the Dunning-Krueger effect holds true on the spiritual level too.

Remember that woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8? The religious elite of Jesus' day brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Him and tried to manipulate Him into condemning her by invoking the Law of Moses. Jesus seemingly ignores them, stooping to write upon the ground as though He didn't hear them. The Bible continues:

"So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst." (John 8:7-9 KJV)

Of course Jesus refuses to condemn either, but warns her to "go and sin no more" But there is something else going on here as well.

Remember, according to the Dunning-Krueger effect, "the less you know about a field, the more highly you rate your ability in that field".

In the quest for righteousness that characterizes the Christian life, because we are novices and have no understanding of what righteousness really is, we consistently overrate our "ability in that field", that is, in the field of righteousness. Notice in John 8, after Jesus called them out on their own sin, beginning with the oldest, they dropped their rocks one by one. There is no fault here with younger believers. Life is an inescapable process of learning, not only about the world around us, but about ourselves. And part of learning what real righteousness is, is learning what it isn't, and that we really don't understand righteousness at all until God reveals it to us.

The older men who had learned (probably with great difficulty) how sinful they really were, were the first to drop their rocks and admit their own sinfulness, because "the more you know about a field, the lower you rate your ability in that field."

What massive irony! The more "righteous" we are, the more we are aware of our own unrighteousness! Did you never wonder at the true humility of the grey-headed elders surrounding you who confessed and lamented their sinfulness?? While the glorious gifts of wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption given to us in 1 Corinthians 1:30 are eternally ours in Christ, left to ourselves we are nothing.

And let me ask.. what is it within us that enables to rise above ourselves, searching and judging our hearts? Is it not the Holy Spirit of God who dwells within, purifying and purging us of the leaven of sin? Isn't He wonderful?

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, the first was so glad that he walked in God's way, sep'rate from sinners, thankful the progress he'd made..

But the second bowed low with tears in his eyes not daring to look up to God's holy skies, "have mercy O God. on a sinner like me!" as he prayed..

And now I am the Second Man, bowing for mercy my hat in my hand

Kicking and screaming I came to this place, just to find rivers of Mercy and Grace

No longer the first I concede full defeat, content just to wait here at God's mercy seat

And ever to praise with uplifted hand the mercy that came to the Second Man.."

listen to the song here:

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