Last Friday my husband, Will, took the day off to study for the board exam, which he took this week. We drove Sam to school together and then went to my favorite coffee shop. Will studied, and I blogged. Then we hung out at home till 4pm when our oldest son had his first collegiate swim meet, which we live-streamed from the couch. Then at 8pm the four of us live-streamed a Jim Breuer show (I think he is the best comedian of our time). It was a lot of happiness crammed into a single day!
But the minute I’ve replayed the most in my mind happened on the way to school. Will loves all kinds of music, but perhaps the most surprising genre, among his diverse tastes, is old church music. He listens to contemporary Christian too, but one of the pre-programed stations in his car is old-timey Christian. That’s what he was playing that morning on the way to school. The DJ, if that’s what you’d call him, sounded about eighty, and he was talking about how sometimes people think they deserve certain rewards in life. And then he slowly and emphatically said, and I quote:
“What you deserve, is hell.”
All three of us cracked up. It just seemed so funny and direct from what sounded like a gentle old man. We were enjoying a beautiful, sunny morning to kick off our weekend, and yet this guy was saying what we deserve is hell.
I turned around and looked at my darling son, “Well, Happy Friday, Sam!”
But have you stopped to think about it? It is 100% true. Donald Trump deserves hell. Joe Biden deserves hell. I deserve hell, and so, my friend, do you. Instead of living in denial we should recognize it as a vital and re-orienting truth. Our culture talks about living “your truth” or being “true to who you are.” But the fact is we are all sinners. We all fall short of the glory of God. We all miss the mark of the plan God has laid out for us. We can’t earn righteousness. Even our most selfless and loving deeds are like filthy rags.
Yet the comparison game plays on, as if it’s all relative. A few years back I wrote a blog post about American Pharisees (I loved that title and now, sadly, someone has used it as a book title). But the phenomenon of pridefully looking down on another group has certainly been around for millennia. And even if we don’t verbalize it, our better-than attitudes shine through. This year we even have brand new demarcations for superiority. Maskers shame the maskless. The maskless disdain the maskers. The stay-at-homers condemn the restaurant diners. Protestors for cause x malign protestors for cause y. “Unfriending” is increasingly socially acceptable and rarely called out as pharisaical nonsense. People even post on social media their acceptable criteria for friendship. I find it semi-amusing and semi-disturbing. Finding one’s identity and worth in a group that condemns another group is commonplace. On the flip side, acknowledging that “what you deserve is hell” is an antidote to self-righteousness. If deep down you know you truly deserve hell, who are you going to judge?
Did you ever hear Jesus say, “I came for the whole world, just not those people. Those people are too far gone.” Of course not! Yet, our culture boldly draws lines in the sand. “We’re on this side,” they say, “and therefore better than those horrible people.” The truth is only Jesus is entitled to draw in the sand. Can you picture him quietly doodling with his finger? He doesn’t throw any stones, but gently says, “Go and sin no more.” He never says, “Unfortunately, you are on my irredeemable list.” There’s no such list. Praise the Name above all names, there is no such list! The Man who knew no sin doesn’t have a list. Meanwhile, we deserve hell and yet have all manner of lists. This should not be!
If you go to a liturgical church, you likely have a weekly time of confession. Do you ever stop to examine your heart in terms of pharisaical leanings? Who in this life does your spirit say, “Thank you God I am not like him” or “at least my sin is not as bad as her’s.” May we confess and repent of every such inclination.
Next week I get to resume volunteering at a local hospital. This staying at home business is harmful in so many ways — the lack of opportunities to serve others not least among them. I’m sure you’ve noticed that it’s a heck of a lot easier to judge people when it’s electronic or theoretical. When you interact face-to-face, the goodness of others — the Imago Dei — comes through. So, don’t wait for inherent goodness to manifest itself via the internet, go love someone in the flesh.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.John 13:35
And be joyful too because we may deserve hell, but we aren’t condemned to it: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). Surely, you would’t reject the saving grace of Jesus to stubbornly live “your truth,” would you?
May your weekend be full of joy, love, peace, patience, and kindness.