A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Friday, April 9, 2010

God Talk: Too Good for God?

I'm preparing for my twice a month bible study and a thought strikes me while I peruse the story of the rich young man for the hundredth time... the problem with human beings is not that they don't think they sin but that they think that there's always someone else worse than they are.

The Pharisees, for good reasons, are seen as the baddies in the gospel accounts of Jesus life. And at the height of Jesus' popularity, they were busy plotting and scheming about how they would quell public enthusiasm for the miracle worker of Galilee and finally take him down altogether. If, perchance, someone were to call me a Pharisee these days, I'm almost certain that they aren't being complimentary.
So what were the crimes of the Pharisees? Although instrumental in the crucifixion of Jesus, the root of their devilry was their hypocrisy. They were the religious leaders of their day-- they knew the Old Testament law back to front and were happy to extrapolate on every legal point till there was no room left to maneouvre. And yet Jesus, who had the divine point of view, saw into their hearts... that despite all their impressive grasp of Law and assiduous performance of religious duties, they were still wretched, evil human beings that didn't really understand the OT scriptures despite their knowledge of it.
That said, I wouldn't consider myself better than a Pharisee. None of us are. Hypocrisy may not be our modus operandi but we are still wretched people in need of a Saviour. Scratch the surface and perhaps I, too am a hypocrite. I say I love God but spend so little time with him. I say that I'm a mother but battle with my own desires and doing what's best for the children. I go to church, I claim to know the second most important commandment and yet look the other way when I know that someone needs my help.

So why are good people prone to hypocrisy? The irony is, they have an inkling that the standards are impossibly high and yet they are adamant that they can still achieve them on their own bat. They take one look at the Sermon on the Mount and think it is the most amazing treatise written (a la Gandhi) about how we are to live. We have a vague idea of what is good but sadly miss the essential point of the Sermon on the Mount -- the God life is an impossible life, unattainable by human effort except through the wonderful grace of God.

The rich young man who met with Jesus also thought he was good enough. I think he was hoping to hear what he wanted to hear -- a confirmation that he was a thoroughly good fellow and deserved a spot in heaven. But when he was confronted about his love for his wealth/possessions, he was crestfallen -- Jesus knew exactly what nerve to prod. The man might've been fairly moral and well-behaved throughout his life but there was still something standing in the way of his attaining eternal life. Money, although useful and important for life, was his idol and well, idolatry is worshipping something in place of God.

I know myself and what I am... but for the grace of God I could be more of a horror of a human being than I already am. I have always been fascinated by the Robert Louis Stevenson's study of evil -- Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Fascinating too, that Stevenson never really describes Hyde's features but only the sense of dread and horror he induces in others. Evil has many faces and no face but lurks within us, ready to overwhelm if given the right circumstances.

All this sounds depressing, I know... but that's why grace is so amazing. Because like John Newton, I must first see that I am a wretch before I can embrace the gift of eternal life that sets me free from the power of evil.

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