If we burst into a hospital and chanced upon a doctor sterilized for surgery, he could not touch us. We may seem immaculate, but not by his standards.
We are like that in the presence of the holy Lord. We may be as good as the next guy, but by the unassailable perfection of God’s lofty standards we are moral lepers. God must keep his distance.
That seems an over-reaction. Being surrounded by imperfection all our lives has jaded our ability to see ourselves objectively. Deep down we suspect the worst but we flee from it like people refusing cancer checks even though early diagnosis brings life, not death.
A favorite, rarely conscious, technique to silence our suppressed but nagging conscience is to concoct a doctored moral code that lets us entertain the delusion that we are morally superior to some people. What drives us to despise certain people or to gossip is not unkindness or snobbishness so much as a desperate attempt to drown the shrieks of our own conscience. We feel less guilt if we can convince ourselves that there are others who are morally worse. Our self-deception is so individual that I am unlikely to guess the reader’s blind-spot, let alone find my own. The following are just three of countless possibilities.
¶ A man might detest wife-bashers, while he cheats on his own wife, thus loading her dice in the deadly AIDS game. He toys, not with the possibility of injuring her, but with the possibility of killing her. He does this not to her face, but in cowardly deceit. And he is certain he soars at moral heights far above anyone who would slap a woman.
¶ Or we might label rape a hideous crime, but call the seduction of a married person ‘love’. Seduction ravishes its victims at the deepest level, debauching them so completely as to make them willing partners in immorality. Even the grave offence of rape leaves its unconsenting victims morally chaste.
¶ Or we might feel superior to criminals when what differentiates us is not morality but cowardice (fear of getting caught, of incurring the disapproval of others, etc.) or lack of opportunity (not knowing how to commit the perfect crime, or not holding a gun at our weakest moment).
Each of us is infected by one of hypocrisy’s innumerable strains. And the most dangerously afflicted are those oblivious to it. That’s why Jesus said blatant sinners are more likely to find God than are the self-righteous.b We are driven to all lengths – even to accusing God of injustice – to try to ease our guilt. We spurn God’s laws, hurt each other, and then have the audacity to blame God for the mess.
‘Why do the innocent suffer?’ we sneer, conveniently forgetting the times our anger, greed and lies have hurt the innocent.c For some suspicious reason, there is a degree of hurt we deem excusable, and the hurt we have inflicted happens to compare favorably with the standard we have arbitrarily set. With every atom of pride within me shrieking in protest, I am forced to the shattering conclusion that the moral gap between a sadistic murderer and myself is invisible, relative to the yawning chasm separating me from the flawless virtue of Almighty God.
The Holy One loathes evil but if he enslaved the human will, squelching evil by forcibly preventing all of us from indulging in pet sins, we’d be the first to shake our fists.
If God is a God of love, why does he allow the evil that’s rampant in this world? For anyone not entranced by his/her own double-standards, the reason is obvious. God longs to destroy all evil, and the time is fast approaching when he will.a But how, without unprincipled favoritism, could he do this without destroying you and me?
(I warned this horror story would take you to the edge of your tolerance. Rich rewards, however, await those with the courage to face facts we inwardly know to be true. When approaching a God who can make us more beautiful than we dare dream, we have no need to act like burns patients smashing mirrors.)
Should we reform and never so much as think another wrong thought, it wouldn’t help. If water is contaminated, adding pure water doesn’t help – the water is still contaminated. There’s corruption in our past and we cannot change the past.
Some things God cannot do without violating his integrity. Consider a man in court found guilty of dangerous driving. The judge happens to be a close friend of the defendant. Would it be right for the judge to declare his guilty friend innocent? Or could he fine the offender less because he is his friend? Only a corrupt judge could condone law-breaking or display favoritism.b
And God is our Judge, because there is no such monstrosity as a self-made person. None of us decided to come into existence, or can even design our offspring’s fingerprints. God formed the brain cells we think with. We owe him everything. The Lord is maker – and therefore owner – of every molecule and organism we have ever used or abused. Like it or loathe it, that makes us accountable to God for our every action.c Our selfishness has hurt people. It would be an outrage for the Supreme Judge to ignore our offences. We’re the ones who bellow at God when we see wrongdoing go unpunished. Though his devotion to you defies explanation, he cannot do other than declare you guilty. And justice demands the penalty be paid.
That leaves just two alternatives. Either you pay the penalty, or someone pays it for you.
It would be sheer conceit for me to consider taking your punishment. I have my own wickedness to answer for. But the Son of God, two thousand years ago, left his celestial judgment seat and came to earth. He became the sole human who has lived a perfect life. In the brilliance of his purity, our highest moral achievements look like mud. So when Christ voluntarily endured the pain and shame of a criminal’s death, something of cataclysmic significance was happening. The timeless Son was taking upon himself full blame for your sin.d
Physical torment choked in a sea of spiritual agony. On the cross the only person who has enjoyed eternal oneness with God cried, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’e Father God was compelled to desert his beloved Son, treating him as the vilest sinner, until the horrific penalty was paid in full. After absorbing the full consequences of our depravity, Christ broke through to life again, blasting a path for us to follow.
You are the focal point of this heart-stopping display of love, the greatest love the universe has known. Will you continue to spurn it?