Christians make bad proclamations out of good observations. St. Paul’s famous observation from Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death,” is just long enough for a meme or bumper sticker. The same thing is true of 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Somehow, these observations about life became proclamations that serve to instill guilt and demand that humans mourn forever. I get some weird media images in my mind here. One is the mourning medieval monks from Monty Python and The Holy Grail. You know the one where during the chant the monks knock themselves in the head with holy boards. The other is Dan Brown’s Albino in The Da Vinci Code where the would be assassin practices self-flagellation. The idea is simple. Our sinfulness (not just our sins) are so bad we can’t ever pay for them.
I Blame Doubting Thomas
The story of Thomas, who refuses to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, is found only in the gospel of John. He claims that he must see the nail marks on Jesus’ hands and be able to place his own hand into the wound on Jesus’ side. Jesus appears later and makes the offer. “Do not doubt but believe,” the savior answers. Thomas does not appear to do any of that. Yet, he declares Jesus, “my lord and my God!”
The other gospels in the New Testament don’t bother with that scene. They do not include the gruesome wounds on the resurrected body of Jesus. In fact, in Luke, the people in Emmaus that dine with Jesus recognize him “in the breaking of the bread.” The nail marks in his hands are not mentioned.
The story about Thomas has served too many evangelistic guilt mongers. Jesus suffering for our sins is supposed to evoke a response motivated by guilt and fear. Jesus continuing to show the wounds even after the resurrection allows some to assume that we should mourn who we are as opposed to what we have done.
Laughing At Our Past
I listened to a recording yesterday that had me in stitches. Tony was speaking at an AA speaker meeting during the early 1990’s. He told his story of childhood awkwardness and his misadventures while drinking. His early ordeal in coming to terms with his alcoholism was as raw as anyone experiences. Boozing, black outs, paranoia, broken relationships, and the total disgust one feels at yourself was as much a part of his story as any of us. There is one aspect about getting sober that every AA says to each other. “It gets better.” And we laugh about it.
Non-alcoholic people don’t get out humor. We laugh a lot. Tony told how he never understands how his wife can only drink half of a glass of wine and pour out the rest. After all, in our mindset, that stuff is supposed to be consumed. We all believed it was a divine duty to consume as much as we could. When we recover, we laugh at how we look at things. We do regret, confess, and attempt to make restitution for the bad stuff we have done. Alcoholics may wish we could enjoy drinking and control it while knowing it can’t really happen. We accept that. We do not mourn being alcoholic. A lifetime of mourning is not required. It would be the most unhealthy way of being.
Overcoming The Need For Others To Be Guilty
I hate hypocrisy. On the other hand, hating hypocrites may be the worst form of hypocrisy. We hate seeing our own weaknesses in others. One of the worst actions early Christians took was to refer to Pharisees as hypocrites. The circumstances of the time led the writer of Matthew to use the term liberally. I am sure hypocrisy was as evident then as it is today.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is full of individual and social hypocrisy. The Puritan colonists are playing a “social game.” We are chosen and should be righteous. Surely, I am righteous. But, Hester Prynne is pregnant without her husband being around. It is evident that she is unrighteous and a blight on the community. She must be branded to remind the rest of us that we should be righteous.
We scapegoat people who become fallen in our eyes. If we were honest, we would admit we look for people to scapegoat. It gets our minds off of ourselves. The early solution given by our spiritual ancestors on their better days was confession with repentance and not to revisit our sins or convince ourselves that we are so sinful that we are hopeless. We don’t want to be in the position of eternal mourning. It is important that we don’t require other people to do it as well. Worse yet, would be to make someone else suffer in our place.