It’s usually just a poor excuse

“It is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.”

-Aleksandr Sholzhenitsyn

As a teacher, I have seen my share of excuse notes from parents. Most of them are typical, “Please excuse Bobby from school because he was sick.” 

There are some, however, that are just so ridiculous, I have to laugh. I wish I had collected these gems through the years but the ones I’ve seen online are near to notes I received. Here are a few:

* It was my fault Mike did not do his math homework last night. His pencil broke and we do not have a pencil sharpener at home.

* Jerry was at his grandmother’s yesterday, and she did not bring him to school because Jerry couldn’t remember where the school was.

* Please excuse Roland from P.E. for a few days. Yesterday he fell out of a tree and misplaced his hip.

* Ralph was absent yesterday because he had a sore trout.

All of these excuses bring up a bubble of laughter but take a moment and do an autopsy on several openings of excuses we may use.

“I said what I did because…”

“I was late, but…”

“I didn’t do what I promised because….”

The words, “because” and “but” in these examples show we often attempt to justify our actions. 

You can wrap the words in any verbal package you want. Call it excuses.; call it a “heads up,” call it rationalization but it all falls under the category of justification.

What is justification?

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Dictionary.com defines justification as “a reason, fact, circumstance, or explanation that defends” something we do. 

According to this definition, justification isn’t always a bad thing. 

A man can justify to the police the reason he was driving so fast was to get his pregnant wife to the hospital before the baby is born. 

It’s a valid excuse but what I’d like to focus on are the times we justify something we said, did or didn’t do when we are looking for an excuse to defend our poor behavior.

Why do we seek to justify our actions or inactions?

  1. We justify our actions or inactions to allow us to live with ourselves.

Many times, when we make poor choices, our conscience kicks in and we must deal with the issue precipitating this. To quiet our conscience down, we often seek to justify what we say or do. 

At other times, we justify our actions subconsciously and sometimes we don’t realize we’re doing this. It’s such an automatic reaction, learned and perfected through time, it became second nature.

Other times, we know of our justifications of poor actions and choices but we are too unwilling to pay the “price” of coming clean. 

This is when we must tell ourselves over and over, the ends justify the means. After we’ve “heard” these enough times, we believe it.

2. We justify our actions or inactions to make ourselves look better to others.

Photo by Bud Helisson on Unsplash

No one wants to look bad in the eyes of those in our world. When we’ve made a choice that smudges our reputations, when called on it, we sometimes justify what we did to save face. 

Though it may seem as if our excuses took care of the issue, most people know when we are rationalizing our actions.

3. When there is something we do not wish to do, we justify why we “can’t” do it.

There are things we don’t want to do, and, though our reasons vary, we sometimes use justifications to get us out of doing the task. 

If we’re asked to go to an event we have no interest in, instead of being transparent about why we don’t wish to attend, we give an excuse to justify our choice. 

Many times, this use of justification is because we are afraid of stating our opinion or, perhaps, it’s even because we don’t feel equipped to do the task we are being asked to do.

4. We use justification to ease our conscience before God.

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I know, justifying something to God is like a small child saying he did not eat all of the cake while licking the icing off his hand. 

Sometimes, in our limited minds, we feel like we can justify something to God because it has worked with other people. 

We don’t take the time and think through these excuses because if we did, we would not use them.

Justifying something to God is foolish because if, according to Luke 12:7, He knows the number of hairs on your head, He knows what your motivation is behind an excuse. I clearly see this in Exodus 3–4.

Justification scorched at the burning bush

In Exodus 3–4, Moses’ days of living in Egypt were a whisper of memory within his head. He fled his privileged life in Egypt and was now tending sheep for his father-in-law. 

However Moses may have felt about himself when living in Egypt, it become clear his opinions of himself have changed.

Justification #1 — Who am I?

One day, Moses spotted something that piqued his curiosity; he saw a bush on fire but not burning up. 

As he drew closer to see what was going on, Exodus 3:2 (NIV) tells us, “There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the flames of fire from within the bush.”

God told Moses He knew of the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt. Then, God said the words that must have struck terror within Moses:

9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”Exodus 3:9–10 (NIV)

Without even blinking, Moses lets God know he does not want to do this and justifies it by saying in verse 11 (NIV), “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 

Moses says that he can’t do it; he’s not the man for this job. God takes away this excuse by reminding Moses He will be with him so Moses can do it.

Justification #2 — What if the Israelites ask me questions I can’t answer?

Moses does not think he is the best choice for going to Pharaoh and imploring him to let all of his Hebrew slaves go. 

Moses justifies his refusal to go by telling God he doesn’t know enough. Exodus 3:13 (NIV):

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God does not “buy” Moses’ justification. Exodus 3:14 (NIV), God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you’.”

Now that God has told Moses what he needs to know, God expects Moses to quit making excuses and do what he’s told.

Justification #3 — The Israelites won’t believe me.

I’ve got to give it to Moses here; he’s got a good point. If I went to a bunch of people and said God told me to do something on the magnitude of Moses’ commission and then, mention God appeared to me in a bush that was burning but didn’t burn up, I’d feel the same way. 

Why would they believe me? Why would they believe Moses?

God patiently reveals to Moses three things he can do as signs that God has given him the authority to do this task. This should do it for Moses, right? Nope.

Justification #4 — I can’t speak well publically. I’ll make a fool of myself.

Once again, Moses justifies his unwillingness to do this job by pointing out another way he is inadequate. Exodus 4: 10 (NIV)

10 Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.

Once again, God does not accept this excuse and reminds Moses He made him the way he is and in knowing this, He’s still telling Moses to do this job.

Justification #5 — Someone else could do it better than me.

Moses uses the last of his justifications in Exodus 4:13, “But Moses said, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else’.”

Exodus 4:14 says God’s “anger burned” against Moses and then He said that Moses’ brother Aaron can go with him. Moses stops trying to justify why he doesn’t want to do this job.

In all of Moses’ justifications, he did not realize what he communicated to others about himself and we, too, communicate these when we justify things ourselves.

What do we communicate about ourselves when we justify things?

Our justifications communicate we believe we’re above the law.

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

In justifying why we refuse to abide by the law (or, in Moses’ and Christians’ case, the commands of God), we are communicating we think we’re above it. 

We need not obey because our excuses are valid and weigh more on the scales of justice then the law itself. 

If this is the backbone of a society, this society will not last. There has to be a “bottom line” and the more we erase this line, the more chaotic and vulnerable this society becomes.

Our justifications communicate what our character is.

When we choose to justify why we make bad choices, it becomes clear to others what sort of person we are. 

The adage of, “if they did it with someone else, they’ll do it to you,” is true. When we make excuses for our actions or inactions, it communicates to others how we operate. 

Justifications of these sorts do not give us a good reputation.

Our justifications communicate to God we don’t respect His standards.

James 4:17 (NIV) sums this up. “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” 

God knows our thoughts and actions; denying this with our behavior shows we don’t know God as we should. Justification of our actions with God is foolish.

The Bottom Line

Justification is a choice many of us make when our actions are not as they should be. 

This rarely brings good results so if something doesn’t work well, why keep doing it?

Susan Grant has taught middle and high school students for more than 30 years. She is a member of the National Writing Project and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She has won writing competitions and published pieces of non-fiction, fiction and essays in publications including, Longridge Review, Chattanooga Writers’ Guild and the Bangor Daily News. Susan’s writing can be found at soulfitness101.com
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Susan Grant has taught middle and high school students for more than 30 years. She is a member of the National Writing Project and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She has won writing competitions and published pieces of non-fiction, fiction and essays in publications including, Longridge Review, Chattanooga Writers’ Guild and the Bangor Daily News. Susan’s writing can be found at soulfitness101.com

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