The prophet Isaiah saw a glimpse of God's holiness and cried, "Woe is me!...for I am a man of unclean lips." King David prayed, "I alone have sinned against Thee." Paul often described himself as the "least of the saints" and the "foremost of sinners." Simon Peter said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
How easily we move from the habitual humility modeled by the Biblical writers to setting up a spiritual pecking order on which we'll generously admit that we're not at the top, but which obviously includes a number of folks below us. Seriously, isn't Charles Manson worse than I am? Osama bin Laden? Lindsey Lohan? All those pitiful losers scolded by Dr. Phil and Judge Judy? Mormons? Those prideful non-Christian "unreached people groups" who will perish if we don't save them? But, judging others is a slippery business. It's amazing the similarity between some public prayers for a "lost and dying world" and the public prayer of the pharisee, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people." On of the scariest verses in the Bible to me is in Matthew 7 where Jesus is observing how clearly we can see a splinter in another's eye in spite of the log sticking out of our own. He says, "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." Yikes. We have the choice of humbling ourselves and receiving God's mercy or setting up a legal system by which we ourselves will be judged. I may want justice for you, but I definitely want mercy for me! Jesus says it doesn't work that way. We are never asked to evaluate anyone else's holiness or spiritual condition. Frederica Mathewes-Green suggests that as a mental act of discipline we stick by the assumption that we are the "foremost of sinners." If nothing else, we'll be in good company.