2005-03-25 - 9:17 a.m.

I feel like a bad blogger because I'm going to be writing, yet again, about religion. Well, Easter only comes once a year, so I'll proceed. Monday I'll write about velveeta. Sound good?

Anyway, what is so special about Easter? Why do we have Lent and Holy Week leading up to it? Perhaps Jesus came back from the dead, but what does it mean to me? Let's take a look at God's eternal word and see if we can't find out what this is suppose to mean.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment?
Romans 2:1-3

In simpler terms, whatever we find despicable, vile, evil, rude or unforgivable in other people, we are guilty of ourselves. Let me illustrate with a personal example. There is this man I used to work with and I found him to be without a doubt the most evil person I ever met. But when I was really honest with myself, there was not one rotten thing he did which I did not do myself. He lied. I lied. I could say my lies were "little white lies" but they were still lies. He was quick to judge others; I've always been quick to judge others. He stole; I stole. Maybe I didn't steal as much, maybe people would say that what I did wasn't really stealing, but it was. He manipulated people for sexual purposes; I was guilty of that, too. He was mean to people for no reason; I was mean to people for no reason.

The only difference between him and me was a difference of degree, and I looked down on him for that. Now, I had a number of ways I could respond to this knowledge. I could say that a difference of degree was enough to make him evil and me good. Basically, the logic of this is that as long as I can find people who are meaner and nastier than me, then I am doing okay. I'm not evil; those people over there are evil. The problem with this is that this co-worker was surely able to say the same thing about someone else. He could point to Hitler and Stalin and rest assured that he was different in degree than Hitler and Stalin.

I had to reject this way of looking at things. The first reason I rejected this was because it basically made me even more judgmental than I was before. I had to find people to look down upon. My self-righteousness demanded it. I needed a steady stream of people worse than myself to make me feel "ok". And these people I looked down upon also needed people upon whom to look down. I would sure hate to be the one at the bottom of that chain!

The second reason I rejected this was because it required countless rationalizations. If I get upset at someone for shop lifting, I have to explain to myself why stealing pens from work is different. If I get mad because someone lied to me, I need to explain how my "little white lies" are so much more innocent. This is a really hard thing to do. I couldn't keep it up.

But why not just say that no one is evil? I don't need to explain how I am different and better than this co-worker, because we are both just doing what we need to do to get by, or we are just responding to environmental and genetic factors. There really isn't any evil and none of us are doing anything wrong. I wasn't quite ready to just write off morality as a whole. I saw the pain people inflict on each other and I did not have the stomach to say "Oh, whatever". If you deny evil, it becomes hard to stop evil. Looking at the violence in our society right now, it is hard for me to think that this is just another thing that happens.

Another strategy would be to rationalize. Everybody does it so it must be okay. Everyone tells a little white lie now and then. Everyone takes a pen home from work on occasion. Everyone is mean some of the time. Everyone hates someone now and then. It just isn't that bad, right? It's impossible to live otherwise.

This, I think, is the most insidious lie. Just because something is hard doesn't mean it isn't worth shooting for. But more importantly, it is an excuse which can be used to justify just about any behavior I want. If I can find a bunch of people who are doing these things (and given the state of our society that is an easy job) I can point to them and say "Look, this is the way of the world". This is exactly how the co-worker I spoke about above justified his behavior.

Another option would be to simply accept my hypocrisy and say "I know I do a lot of the same things he does, but he is evil and I'm not and I don't care if I can't explain why." This one I couldn't stomach at all because I hate hypocrisy more than anything.

To sum up, I looked inside myself and saw that I was everything that I hated in other people. And from observing other people, I got the sense that they were in the same boat. Many of them rationalized using one or more of the responses above, but it seemed like we all are what we hate. Maybe I'm wrong, though. Why not take a little while and really search yourself out? Think of someone who you find rotten or mean or evil or unforgivable and see if you can find out exactly how you are different from them. Do they hate? Do you hate? Are they cold and unfeeling? Aren't you sometimes quick to drown out other people's pain?

St. Paul isn't saying that we need to look at other people and find them sinful. What he is saying is that we might be pretty unhappy if we looked at ourselves. Even by our own standards we can't seem to pass the test. For me, sin isn't about judging other people, it's about seeing myself clearly. The Christian response is not to judge others for their sin, but to freely admit our own sin and our own need for a savior.

And we do have a savior. Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah wrote this (Isaiah 53:6)

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

God saw that we would all try to make our own way in the world, that we would all try to do what was good in our own eyes, and that ultimately it would make us crooked, hard-hearted, hypocritical and judgmental. I lower the bar of goodness to make sure I can meet it but I raise it when I judge other people. I create elaborate rationalizations so I can condemn in others what is in myself. This of course did not surprise God. He had a plan.

God Himself takes care of my sin. Read the whole chapter of Isaiah 53. It is just amazing. He has paid the price and He is ready to save me.

So, when I get excited about Easter, it's because I am excited about the wonderful things God has done - in taking the punishment for my sin - and the wonderful things He will do - removing sin completely. But it's so much greater than that! God will wipe every tear from your eyes! Remember all those awful nights when you cried yourself to sleep? I know I do! I know all the times I was on the verge of despair. And I look forward eagerly to God finally and completely healing me and wiping those tears from my eyes, when I will finally see the meaning of all the pain I've carried for so long.

This past Sunday the pastor at the church I go to had an excellent sermon on this topic. It actually drove me to tears - of both repentance and joy. The mp3 is here. I hope you take the time to hear someone much more eloquent than me show from his own life the truth of what I am saying.

Anyway, may the meaning of Easter become a reality for you and may you be blessed.


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