Can You Admit When You Are Wrong?
“THE foolish and the dead alone never change their opinion.” At least, so said writer J. R. Lowell. Be that as it may, it is a very common human failing to stick to an opinion unreasonably or to refuse to admit when we are wrong.
An outstanding demonstration of this attitude occurred in the year 33 C.E. For some time before that date, Jesus of Nazareth had been teaching and making disciples around Palestine. The Jewish leaders had consistently opposed him, rejecting both the Scriptural proofs of his Messiahship and the miraculous signs accompanying his ministry. Then, in that year, Jesus performed a powerful work in the vicinity of Jerusalem that should have convinced even the most determined opposer. In full view of many people, he raised to life a man who had been dead four days!—John 11:30-45.
Surely, if anything demonstrated the fact that Jehovah was backing up Jesus, this miracle did. How else could a resurrection from the dead be explained? Many Jews accepted him because of it. But what about the Jewish leaders? The record says that they ‘took counsel to kill Jesus.’ Not only that, but “the chief priests now took counsel to kill Lazarus,” the man whom Jesus resurrected.—John 11:53; 12:10, 11.
Yes, rather than admit that they were wrong, the Jews wanted to remove all trace of the evidence. Certainly we are impelled to condemn their stubbornness. One would think that, after such a display of obstinacy, their consciences would move them to reconsider their attitude. But they went ahead and, later, brought about the death of Jesus—the worst error and the most reprehensible criminal action ever committed.—1 Cor. 2:6-8.
Then, despite all the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, they wanted to get rid of the apostles, who were witnesses to this mighty work of God. But one of their most respected leaders, though he did not acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah, gave them counsel that should at least have made them radically adjust their thinking. This man was the prominent teacher Gamaliel. After citing examples of men who had risen up as self-styled Messiahs and the failure of the movements that they started, Gamaliel advised: “I say to you, Do not meddle with these men, but let them alone; (because, if this scheme or this work is from men, it will be overthrown; but if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them;) otherwise, you may perhaps be found fighters actually against God.”—Acts 5:34-39.
Nevertheless, the Jewish rulers paid little heed to Gamaliel’s counsel. For, sometime later, when the Christian Stephen faced them with what they had done, and told them that they were obstinate men, “they felt cut to their hearts [but not repentant or softened] and began to gnash their teeth at him.” Then “they cried out at the top of the voice and put their hands over their ears,” and finally stoned Stephen to death.—Acts 7:51-60.
Even in the face of such examples, stubbornness is often admired in the world. The Bible, however, associates it with rebelliousness and a bad heart—things that Christians should avoid. (Ps. 78:8) It also provides examples, such as that of Pharaoh of Egypt and of the Jews in the time of the Judges, and of their suffering because of their stubbornness.—Ex. 14:8, 26-28; Judg. 2:19-23.
So, if a person examines himself and finds that he is naturally stubborn, or has the kind of personality that does not take too kindly to listening to other people’s views, it is good to recognize this as a problem. After all, it is not to the stubborn, but “to the meek ones [God] will show favor.” Additionally, it is not the obstinate or the opinionated, but the meek ones who will “possess the earth.”—Prov. 3:34; Ps. 37:11.
Sometimes the problem may not be merely stubbornness. It may be related to another characteristic—pride. How could this be? Well, consider. Have you ever known a supervisor at work who makes a mistake and, when it is exposed, refuses to admit it or tries to blame someone else? Or, perhaps, you have heard an elder in a congregation unintentionally say something inaccurate, then be unwilling to acknowledge it. This could be due to pride, a feeling that in his position he should not be caught in a mistake. Parents and schoolteachers sometimes act this way, fearing that they will lose respect and influence if they admit an error, thus weakening their authority.
Related to pride is the idea of “saving face.” In the Orient some would rather die literally than “lose face.” But most of us, whether in the East or the West, want to defend our “face,” our prestige or the image we want to present. This is motivated to a great extent by pride.
Is pride a quality Christians should cultivate? Well, when we think of proud people, who comes to mind? Men like Sennacherib, Pharaoh and the king of Babylon (and even the Devil himself). (1 Tim. 3:6) True, these kings were praised and feared by their contemporaries, but how did Jehovah view them? The Bible says: “Self-exaltation and pride . . . I [Jehovah] have hated.” (Prov. 8:13) And where is the glory of these men now?
Embarrassment and Fear
Some people may, for another reason, refuse to admit when they are wrong. Perhaps they are afraid or embarrassed. When they have done something that they are ashamed of, and have been called to account for it, sheer shame may cause them to deny the facts or to try to justify their action in an effort to get their consciences to excuse them. Such persons need to develop the qualities of faith and humility and love for God. Jehovah is willing to forgive even very serious sins. If the sinner will show confidence and trust in God and in the sacrifice of his Son and will freely confess his sin to God, his conscience will be cleansed. (Heb. 9:14) For the Scriptures speak of the sympathetic nature of our High Priest Jesus Christ, and counsel us: “Let us, therefore, approach with freeness of speech to the throne of undeserved kindness, that we may obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.”—Heb. 4:15, 16; 1 John 2:1, 2.
Frankly, what really is gained by refusing to accept blame for what we have done? True, we may not get disciplined at the time, but “whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.” (Gal. 6:7) Though other men may not uncover our sins, “Jehovah is making an estimate of hearts.” (Prov. 21:2) The apostle Paul warns us: “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written: ‘“As I live,” says Jehovah, “to me every knee will bend down, and every tongue will make open acknowledgment to God.”’ So, then, each of us will render an account for himself to God.”—Rom. 14:10-12.
Reasonableness and Meekness
Of course, by stubbornness we are not referring to the firmness of purpose that a Christian must exhibit. It is commendable if a servant of God is “steadfast, unmovable” in his worship. (1 Cor. 15:58) This springs from good motives, and is firmness for Jehovah’s ideas and principles, not our own. Additionally, it is allied with two important qualities—meekness and reasonableness.
Some may feel that meekness and reasonableness are not fitting qualities for persons in authority. Yet Moses, who was overseer of some three million people, was “the meekest of all the men who were upon the surface of the ground.” (Num. 12:3) And it is specifically stated that Christian elders in the congregation of God should be “reasonable.” (1 Tim. 3:1-3) Yes, a person who is meek and reasonable will not find it hard to admit when he is wrong. He will not be too embarrassed, too proud or too insecure to state facts as they really are, nor will “saving face” be more important to him than speaking the truth. Rather, he will show the wisdom from above, which is “peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits.”—Jas. 3:17.
Of course, most of us would not let stubbornness cause us to commit murder, as the Jewish leaders did. But even if in small things we are stubborn, this is displeasing to Jehovah. (Luke 16:10) If we commit a sin we should quickly acknowledge our guilt and get away from the sin, not continuing to “touch” such a thing, and then go immediately and with freeness of speech to God in order to get a purified heart. If something blocks our way of approach to God—pride, shame, fear or anything else—we should get the help of another Christian to join in prayer for us. (Jas. 5:16) It is not the shame or the admitting of the wrong that we should fear, but the displeasure of God for not confessing it to him. We should also recognize his abundant mercy to those who come to him with a contrite heart, for he says: “To this one, then, I shall look, to the one afflicted and contrite in spirit and trembling at my word.”—Isa. 66:2.