When I was young, a friend and I imagined a device like a watch, that would show you exactly how long it would be until you died. Then we thought about the impact of our lives on that clock: every cigarette would take minutes or hours away from the time you had, every hamburger, every time you worried it would take time off of your life… everything.
We decided that the expiry watches weren’t such a great idea after all.
The lesson the thought experiment gave us was the same lesson that Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album offered, in “Time”: there was no time to waste, that time marched on whether we were ready to participate or not; there is no practice round, there is no warm-up.
We are barely relevant to the time we have. We can affect it, to be sure, through choices we make – and such choices can be terminal. (“Sure, I’d love to text my American Idol votes while driving in the rain to McDonald’s! What could go wrong?”)
We are certainly powerless to extend the span of our days – the best we can do is to be able to make that span as full as God allows it to be. We can limit how much is taken from our lives; we cannot add to our time on this Earth.
If we are barely relevant to the time we have, how much less relevant are we to the coming of the Day of the Lord? Why do we worry about things that we cannot affect? Why do we not strive to make the most of what we have, while we have it?
Father, I do not believe it is your Will that my desire be fulfilled.
If that fulfillment is Your Will, and I am misunderstanding it, then please give me confidence through correction, and create the circumstances by which your Will might be fulfilled, even in this small thing, because I have no faith in this matter and I will resist its completion with every fiber of my being.
If my assumption and conviction is correct, then I beg of You that You show me some way to endure my own selfishness and pride.
I feel like I am at war with myself, that the edict of the body is a contrast with the edict of the Spirit, and I only desire what is good and right in Your eyes, not mine.
If it is Your Will that I attempt to endure as best I am able, and You do not desire to grant me some relief from my burden, so be it; Your Will supercedes my desires, and I only choose to serve You in any way I am able to.
I had an argument with someone recently over the severity of sin. This person took great offense to the suggestion that she was no better than someone upon whom she looked down, and my assertion was that no, sin was sin – and a whole lot of little things fell out of the rather heated discussion.
For one thing, it took me a while to remove my emotions from the argument – and it was an argument, not just a heated discussion. That was probably wrong of me; I normally try to keep my emotions out of it, but just like the assertion offended the other party, her assertion that she was better than someone else offended me.
The thing is: I understand her point. It’s easy for us to say “I’ve never murdered; I’ve not stolen; I’ve not coveted another’s wife; I’ve not done this, I’ve not done that.”
Compared to someone who has done those things, whatever they are, it’s easy to say to yourself that God approves of your actions more than he approves of theirs – if He approves of theirs at all.
From a human standpoint, from the standpoint of the individual, this is probably true. If there’s a scale, and for us there is a scale, then yes, one who’s murdered another is “worse” than one who has not, all other things being equivalent.
But my point was that our scale does not matter. Here on Earth it does, I suppose; I’d not suggest the same sentence in jail for one who’s shoplifted and another who’s killed in cold blood.
Yet to God, there is no scale. I’m one of those people who hates litmus tests for people, but God uses one as the criteria for salvation, and praise be to His Holy Name that it’s the lightest burden to carry Man has ever known.
The test God uses is not: “Have you sinned?”
The test God uses is: “Have you accepted redemption through Christ’s death on the cross for your sins, and His resurrection?”
If you can say “yes” to that question, then everything you have ever done apart from that decision is irrelevant. God removes your sin from you, as far as the east is from the west. (See Psalm 103:12.)
Further, God tells us that there’s no gradation of sin – James says that if you’ve broken any of the law, you’ve broken all of it (James 2:10).
So we can see here two points of view: one is human, and says (correctly) that some sins are worse than other sins. This isn’t a new consideration; the rabbis held that anything short of murder was reparable.
The other point of view is God’s, and it says that all sin separates Man from God, and that all sin is reparable through Jesus Christ.
What, then, should we use as our perspective?
Well, it depends.
It’s understandable that we’re repelled by certain sins. Child abuse, for example, is horrible; once someone has shown that they’re an abuser of children, skepticism towards their rehabilitation is understandable (even if they are rehabilitated.)
That said, if one is a brother or sister in Christ, then… they are a brother or sister in Christ.
The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) hits this head on.
In this parable, a son wanders away from his father, entering into a wasteful life; he returns, penitent and regretful. (He asks to be treated as if he were a hired servant, not a son, in verse 19.) The father instead treats him as a treasure, once lost but now found, celebrating his return.
The story concludes with the older son, who resents the acceptance and celebration of the return of his brother.
28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'” (Luke 15:28-32, ESV)
The older brother’s perspective is understandable, in my opinion; he’s wondering why nobody celebrated his continual obedience while this wayward brother’s return is seen as a wonderful thing.
He’s focused on the wrong thing; he’s still looking at the sin, the leaving of the son from his father’s household, where the father is focused instead on the son’s return.
What a wonderful picture of the forgiveness of Christ, and how we should see those who turn to Him, no matter what their past has been! The brother is using the human perspective; the father is using the perspective of our Father in Heaven.
Clearly, we should strive with all of our being to see others as God sees them, and not as we in our human frailty and pride see them.
Christians don’t act like cities on a hill very often. We should change that if we can. To me, as a modern person, the analogy is difficult – maybe we can find a different one that works as well.
The thing is, the expression in Matthew 5:14 is archaic; to a people who live in easy chairs, with secure roofs and cable television, being a “city on a hill” doesn’t really mean much.
A city on a hill, in those days, was a beacon, a symbol of safety from the horrors of the road.
The Good Samaritan is a story in which a man is casually attacked by robbers on the side of a road – and the point wasn’t the attack, but the response to it. People didn’t gasp at the attack – it was the casual attitude of those who passed by after the attack.
Roads were dangerous places. If you were on a road at night, you wanted to find a safe place – and a city on a hill was easily visible, even from the low places. If the city was lit by torches, all the better.
It meant safety.
I was watching #scripture on Undernet this morning, and a person apologized to another – and then proudly proclaimed his apology to the entire channel, and castigated the person to whom he’d apologized for not publicly accepting the apology. It came off as if he expected praise for having done the “adult thing,” which converts the “adult thing” to not even half an actual apology, and makes it a childish thing indeed.
He ended up calling the person to whom he’d apologized a wimp, and another person on the channel a “bimbo.”
This is not being a city on a hill; this is poisonous.
I was thinking that perhaps a lighthouse was a good analogy that might illustrate the same concept.
A lighthouse broadcasts safety, too; it says “there is something here that you should avoid.” You don’t go toward a lighthouse, because the presence of the beacon is a warning; you pay attention to a lighthouse unless you want to destroy or ground your boat, so you’re happy to see one.
The analogy breaks down, though, and badly. A city on a hill broadcasts safety, but definitely wants to draw you nearer to receive the protection; a lighthouse says “stay away,” and we as Christians should welcome people, rather than drive them away.
A city on a hill is honey; a lighthouse is vinegar.
As usual, I’m thrilled by how well Jesus puts things. I pray that we all can put them into action and become as He wants us to be.