Tuesday, 27 June 2017
All Christians are hypocrites. It’s something I’ve said before, but it’s worth repeating. John Wesley thought he’d met a single person who’d attained Christian perfection, but even the possibility of such a thing is fiercely debated. Apart (perhaps) from that individual though, there’s not a one who doesn’t fall short of the standards they claim everyone else ought to follow.
The main problem is partially the impossibly high standard to which we are held. ‘Be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect’. Well, I mean, really! What sort of chance do we have?
The other problem, I would like to suggest, is that our technology and society have moved on somewhat from the time when our rules were laid down. I’m not suggesting any sort of chronological snobbery, or that just because the rules are ancient that they must therefore be wrong. On the other hand I’m no literalist, and just because they’re old doesn’t automatically mean they’re right either. They need to be considered and accepted or rejected on their own merit, not just because someone else, a long time ago, found them acceptable for inclusion.
That’s by the by. My point is that we have whole new wonderful ways of sinning nowadays that were simply unavailable to the transgressors and wrongdoers of bygone eras. I’m not saying there are new sins, merely new ways of committing the old classics.
I’m particularly thinking at the moment about anger. “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Well, fair enough, but I would merely point out that Jesus never had to drive into Luton during the morning rush hour, and if that idiot in the green Toyota overtook Him in the teeth of oncoming traffic at almost twice the 30mph limit, He might be moved to at least accept the permissibility of a little light verbal remonstrance. Possibly accompanied by gestures. And lightning bolts.
I’ve now been driving just under a year, and I am sad to report that in that time the number of people upon whom I have bestowed unflattering epithets has increased significantly. I have also sentenced a great many more people to corporal punishment and handed out executions at a frightening rate, all of them richly deserved. How else should one treat those who don't indicate coming off a round about, or who don't wave when you kindly allow them through, even though it was your right of way? I once found it necessary to sentence the entirety of the Morrison carpark to death for a vast array of offenses both motorised and pedestrian. I don’t enjoy being judge, jury and executioner, but someone has to take a hand. I think of it as doing my bit for the Big Society, if that’s even still a thing.
My point is that instead of getting easier, it’s got even harder to be anything like a good Christian. The anonymity of the internet means that many of the old reasons not to call people a fool, such as the fear of a fist to the nose, have been removed. There are no immediate consequences. Sitting in the security of my car, I can call the driver (for want of a better word) of the green Toyota as many names as I like; he can’t hear me.
Not only is our goal unachievable, it’s actually managed to get harder, if that’s possible. However, although it's true that it’s easier than ever to commit certain sins it’s also easier than ever to do good. It’s so easy to give to charity, so easy to spread love, encouragement, and wisdom, anonymously if you wish to. We have been given more than any generation before us, more to do evil, more to good, and to those whom much is given, much is expected.
Sitting in my car at 7.45am on the A5, it’s easy to spit abuse at the silly fellow in the green Toyota, but that doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change what we have been told to do. That it’s easier doesn’t make it any better; if anything it makes it worse. If we can’t restrain ourselves when it’s easy to lash out, why would we at any other time?
Tomorrow then, I shall attempt to restrain the nastier aspects of my wit. I shall attempt to be slightly less of a hypocrite. If I see the chap in the green Toyota, I shall attempt not to think what an unwise and reckless person he is. I shall try to forgive the foibles of my fellow motorists and let them off with a caution, at most. I won’t succeed, but to throw in the inevitable Lewis quotation, “If we aim at Heaven, we get the Earth thrown in. If we aim at the Earth, we get neither.”