Whenever we place blame, we are looking for a scapegoat for a real dislocation in which we ourselves are implicated. Blame is a defensive substitute for an honest examination of life that seeks personal growth in failure and self-knowledge in mistakes. Thomas Moore states, "Fundamentally, it is a way of averting consciousness of error."
Pharisaic Judaism comprised a relatively small group of 'separated ones' who almost two centuries before Christ, in order to preserve the Jewish faith from foreign dilution, had given themselves to lives of vigilant observance of the Mosaic Law. "Their lives were one long rehearsal, a symphony orchestra tuning up endlessly by playing tortured variations of the Law."
Before the Jewish exile, when the spirit of the covenant was vibrantly alive, the people felt safe in the shadow of God's love. In the pharisaic period, as the understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures deteriorated, the Jews felt safe in the shadow of the Law. Obviously, the gospel of grace presented by the Nazarene carpenter was an outrage.
The attitude of the pharisee is that keeping the law enamours him to God. Divine acceptance is secondary and is conditioned by the pharisee's behaviour. For Jesus the circumstance is diametrically opposite. Being accepted, enamoured, and loved by God comes first, motivating the disciple to live the law of love.
Suppose a child has never experienced any love from her parents. One day she meets another little girl whose parents shower her with affection. The first says to herself: "I want to be loved like that, too. I have never experienced it, but I'm going to earn the love of my mother and father by my good behaviour." So to gain the affection of her parents, she brushes her teeth, makes her bed, smiles, minds her p's and q's, never pouts or cries, never expresses a need, and conceals negative feelings.
This is the way of pharisees. They follow the law impeccably in order to induce God's love. The initiative is theirs. Their image of God necessarily locks them into a theology of works...the pharisee must pursue a lifestyle that minimizes mistakes. Then, on Judgment Day, he can present God with a perfect slate and the reluctant Deity will have to accept it. The psychology of the pharisee makes a religion of washing cups and dishes, fasting twice a week and paying tithes of mint, dill and cumin very attractive.
What an impossible burden! The struggle to make oneself presentable to a distant and perfectionistic God is exhausting. Legalists can never live up to the expectations they project on God "for there will always be a new law, and with it a new interpretation, a fresh hair to be split by the keenest ecclesiastical razor."
The pharisee within is the religious face of the impostor. The idealistic, perfectionist and neurotic self is oppressed by what Alan Jones calls "a terrorist spirituality." A vague uneasiness about ever being in right relationship with God haunts the pharisee's conscience. The compulstion to feel safe with God fuels this neurotic desire for perfection. This compulsive endless moralistic self-evaluation makes it impossible to feel accepted before God. The perception of personal failure leads to a precipitous loss of self-esteem and triggers anxiety, fear and depression.
...In sharp contract to the Pharisaic perception of God and religion, the biblical perception of the gospel of grace is that of a child who has never experienced anything but love and who tries to do her best because she is loved. When she makes mistakes, she knows they do not jeopardize the love of her parents. The possibility that her parents might stop loving her if she doesn't clean her room never enters her mind. They may disapprove of her behaviour, but their love is not contingent on her performance.
For the pharisee the emphasis is always on personal effort and achievement. The gospel of grace emphasizes the primacy of God's love. The pharisee savours impeccable conduct; the child delights in the relentless tenderness of God.
Excerpt from Brennan Manning's ABBA'S CHILD