Scripture is demonstrated to be highly reliable in oh, so many ways. For example, the summer season is upon us, and as we watch the world around us, we can see the people around us proving that the Bible has a completely reliable anthropology: that is, that it is right in its assessment of man. Human tradition speaks of the innate goodness of man as a species. Watching people, studying history, and keeping track of the news will show you a different picture entirely.
Have you ever watched someone do something so totally unreasonable that you had to scratch your head and wonder aloud, "How could anyone do that?"? People make phenomenally bad decisions every day. It isn't that they are stupid. It isn't that they cannot think. It is sin in their nature. The leading of our "old Adam" is always going to be counter to our own best interests. For example, how can people go on television and confess before the whole world things that they would shrink from admitting in private? People have been doing it for years - - Maury Povich's show, Ricky Lake, Jerry Springer, and even Oprah, among a host of lesser wanna-bees, have built careers on the unfortunate decisions of people to air their dirty laundry for their 15 minutes of fame.
What leads people to such short-sighted and often inaccurate and even dangerous decision making? Sin. Dangerous? Yes, there was the controversy over the Jenny Jones show in 1995, about the man who admitted on air to having romantic, even sexual feelings about his male co-worker, who then murdered his amorous friend on account of that revelation three days later. Both the decision to disclose what ought to be personal information in a public forum, and the decision to commit murder (and the actual doing of it) flow from the one source - sin.
Scripture teaches us that we inherit sin and the inclination to sin. It is called "original sin". We get it from Adam. Contrary to the nearly unanimous opinion of the world around us, man is not good and decent by nature. We are sinful. We tend toward evil and actually appreciate evil. We don't like it when it strikes us, but we like it in general terms. Think about watching television. Which shows are more interesting, shows about good stuff or shows which feature violence or evil-doing? Those "funniest videos" shows focus primarily on bad things happening. Generally, they are not blood-and-gore, death-depicting, bad things, but time and again we see people doing dumb things and paying a price. It is the small violence and misfortune that seems to appeal to us.
Not that it is just those videos. Week after week people tune in to CSI in one of it's half-dozen incarnations, or the police shows, or "24", or shows and movies about vampires and werewolves and what-not. There is something about us that makes us take pleasure from scenes of evil, although we would not call it that while we watch the show. Critics decry the news programs that highlight violence and trouble graphically, but those are the ones with the better ratings. But that effect does not require crime and murder, it just needs sin. Desperate Housewives is not popular because those women like to shop, soap operas do not endure unless there is a salacious storyline, and even the most popular comedies are just a bit 'naughty' - well, okay, today they are just downright perverse.
This is a demonstration of the truth of the Scriptural witness concerning our nature. We are by nature corrupt and sinful. Even though sin is counter-intuitive, it causes us to do stupid things. Adultery, for example, makes no sense, when you think about it. Another man or another woman will have nothing to offer that one's spouse does not possess (generally speaking). Without exception, what the 'other' can bring is loss. A man will lose his family, his peace of mind, His integrity, and, when found out (and that always happens) his reputation. For women it is very similar in what they lose. In either case, relationships with children are changed. Relations with shared friends and in-laws change automatically. The peace of mind and home and contentment and family are irrevocably altered. And for what? For something that is typically available from the spouse, except that with the spouse it does not carry the extra zing of the forbidden fruit. I have seen hundreds of people victimized by adultery and its consequences, and no one has come out better. Eventually, they may find happiness again - or for the first time - but sin drags them through an emotional and social and often economic beating first.
Sin is the work of Satan. His desire and goal is to destroy the things of God. He never gives anything good, although sin almost always starts out promising something desirable. There is some pleasure, some profit, some advantage to be obtained, or so it appears. The 'good' that seems to be lying out there just waiting to be seized by the one who has the courage, the vision, or the ambition to take a chance, is always an illusion. You may be able to achieve the single thing that you aimed at, but it is never as good or satisfying as it appeared from a distance, or it comes with all sorts of unexpected and unintended consequences which will rob you of whatever good you imagined you might achieve.
Remember the fable of The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs? Sin entices men to kill that goose in the vain search for the hoard of gold they expect lies within. Jay Leno always enjoyed reading clippings about the stupid criminal on the Tonight Show. It was sin making them stupid. Almost any human endeavor that offers some reward or fame has produced a flock of their own 'stupid criminal' types who just feel compelled to do something to advance themselves over their neighbor (or fellow-competitors) and end up either hurting themselves or damaging the very pursuit they cheated at.
Look at the example of Bernie Madoff. He made a killing in the financial markets, and then participated in killing them when the truth unfolded publicly that he was running a gigantic Ponzi scheme. He not only destroyed the remaining years of his life, but that of his wife, his sons, and various associates - and the hundreds of investors he defrauded. He had a long run, about thirty years, before his house of cards came crashing down. It was apparently guilt that got him, that and the looming reality that he was going to be unable to meet all those obligations he used to finance his high life style. What made him do it? Sin.
Sports figures with enormous talent cannot resist the lure of greater fame and fortune, and so they indulge in using illegal or unethical performance enhancing drugs. Their careers die. Their fame and glory is all tarnished. What they treasured most is destroyed by making decisions to do what they did not need to do, just to push themselves a little higher in the arena in which they already excelled. No wonder the author of Proverbs says, Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it Than a house full of feasting with strife. I imagine that Ken Lay and the men of Enron did not set out to create the turmoil they accomplished. They killed the golden goose alright, the company collapsed, and the consequent commotion destroyed the lives of the company leaders, the jobs and retirement pensions of the employees, and the stress apparently ended Mr. Lay's life entirely.
Government leaders throughout the world have made decisions that simple arithmetic could have demonstrated were unwise, with tragic consequences that are just now beginning to unfold. From simple and personal choices to multinational and far-reaching policy decisions, people keep doing things that make no sense in the light of calm, rational thinking. As the troubles which follow these actions unfold, the question is always, "How could you?" And the real answer is always the same; sin. It is the human tendency toward doing what is not right. It is our natural attraction toward the dangerous and the forbidden. People will destroy the system - any system - for personal advantage - any advantage, real or imagined, even when doing so ends their ability to enjoy or receive the perceived advantages.
Luther described this aspect of the problem of sin with a Latin phrase, "Curvatus in se". In sin, man is twisted in on himself. God created life to be lived outward: giving, loving, sharing, encouraging, helping one another. Man's sinful nature leads him to live life inward: as though it were all about himself. It is very difficult to be wise and circumspect if one is gazing at one's self and contemplating how to take for one's self without regard for what that action may do or whom it may hurt. Sin is the ultimate deceit because it says, "this way lies the good", when in fact it starts by abandoning the good to go 'that way'.
In ancient Israel, men turned away from God, even in the face of great signs and miracles, to do what was forbidden and worship other deities, while knowing both the reality and power of God, and understanding the judgments of God connected to idolatry. Their behavior can only be explained by sin - a natural repugnance to God and attraction to anything forbidden. They did it because it appealed to them, and without evaluating the cost because they were totally turned in on themselves. Our culture today comes out of a time of abundance and blessings, and active church life. Church leaders have often turned from the Word of God and from those practices which caused their churches to prosper because something else appealed to them. People who knew the Word of God at least superficially turned away from it and allowed themselves to be led astray in the face of better knowledge. Our culture led the way of personal pleasure without regard for the cost or consequence because man is sinful by nature.
This doesn't fit well with the narrative of our society that man is essentially good, basically nice. Neither does the history of the last century with communist regimes slaughtering millions and leaving countless others in squalor just because it seems to them that their chosen economic system ought to work. The history in the last century of cruel experimentation upon other people deemed to be "inferior species" does not fit the narrative. The eugenics programs of the last century and the wholesale abortion of millions of children (45-50 million in America alone, and counting) does not fit the narrative. Partial birth abortion, in which a healthy and viable infant is 'terminated' in mid-birth does not fit the narrative of human goodness. The rising tide of sexual abuse and exploitation, particularly of children, does not fit the narrative of the basic decency of man. The fact that I can go on and on and be so depressing about it merely tells us that these horrors are not exceptions to the rule, or random glitches in an otherwise good situation. These horrors illustrate that Scripture is correct, man is fundamentally evil by nature - sinful.
Jesus came to redeem us from that. His death was not about some occasional weakness, but about full-blown evil and sin on a cosmic scale. He lived without sin, but in its presence, for us. His righteous life earned eternal life where our twistedness and sin had quite fully earned us death and hell. And then He died, innocent, falsely charged, yet willingly bearing our guilt before the Father and dying on our behalf. He died our death, and suffered all that we by our sins have deserved. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin - all the stuff that preceded this - on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses - our trespasses - against them!
The Gospel is deadly serious. It is a serious joy that the world around us is not the final answer! The trouble and evil that we see every day is defeated, even if we can seemingly do nothing effective against it. The victory is ours in Jesus Christ - and we are His! The narrative of Scripture is confirmed by the world around us even as it frantically denies it and tries to silence it. And the narrative that tells us that our nature is totally corrupt also tells us that God loves us with such a passion that He sent His Son to die for us and redeem us from sin and death and Hell!
So, what do we do with that in the summer of 2010? We stand firm in our confession. We live the truth of our forgiveness and of the selfless love of Jesus Christ for us by loving one another just as Christ said. We walk in holiness because, by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within each one that believes, we can. We bear the scorn of those who reject faith because their scorn is the sour-grapes of the defiantly unbelieving. We prepare to give that defense of which Peter spoke concerning what we believe to everyone who asks us - but with gentleness and reverence. We remember that, but for the grace of God, we would be walking in their shoes. We rejoice daily and give thanks that we know the end of the story, and it is resurrection, and eternal life in glory.
And we refuse to compromise one iota of the truth (when Jesus said it He was referring to the yod - y - the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet) to the world around us, even at those times when it presents itself as another "Christian" denomination. We stand firm - and faithful - and confess Christ with joy and confidence no matter what, because we are not called to win, only to be faithful.
Yours in the Lord,
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