We have all known the person who can't seem to hear what others say, particularly if what the others say is unwelcome. The hoarder to whom a child says, "Dad, your house is an utter mess," who acknowledges what his child says but then explains why things are all right the way they are: "I know it isn't a good place for you, but it works for me and my seventeen dogs." The worker who hears someone say, "You don't finish the things you start" and who may respond "Yes, that is a problem." But then nothing happens. He or she seems not really to have heard the criticism.
Sometimes these are relatively small problems. But sometimes not. The doctor says to me, "You are overweight," but the reality of what he says doesn't sink in. I agree with him, then leave and tell myself that I have big bones, that the studies about weight aren't all that conclusive, that the body mass index doesn't tell a good enough story about health because it doesn't take enough factors into account. A failure to hear what we don't want to recognize can ruin families and destroy careers. It can kill us psychologically and physically. It also kills us spiritually.
Speaking to the Prophet Ezekiel, God defined that inability to hear (and see) as the condition of sin:
Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house (Ezek. 12:2).
Here rebellion against God, sin, isn't portrayed as open rebellion. Few of us are figures of Satan, confronting God face-to-face and refusing him and his commands. Instead we rebel by being unable to hear and see. We cannot see our real condition. We cannot hear the truth.
Of course there are sinful acts. Of course those acts range in severity from the petty to the awful. But ultimately sin is not a matter of doing those particular acts, whether small or great. It is a matter of living in a world where sinful acts are appropriate or justifiable in some way. "I can't help myself" and its many variations is one of the most common justifications. In sin I live as I do because, though there are many options within the world I inhabit, none of them include the possibility of the world itself being radically different than I now take it to be.
Sin is finding myself in a fallen world and not recognizing that it is fallen because I see no possible alternative. I rebel through a kind of ignorance, an ignorance of self-deception.
Perhaps that kind of rebellion is more difficult to overcome than open rebellion. (I'm not sure; I don't think I've ever seen a case of open rebellion against God.) If we rebel openly, then presumably we can stop. But if our rebellion is because we cannot see or hear the truth, then we cannot get ourselves out of that condition. I rebel not calling what I do "rebellion" for there is no alternative, regardless of how much I wish there were, regardless of how much someone else might insist that there is. I may agree with them in the abstract, but in truth I cannot see any alternative to the way I live.
So even if I hear the doctor and agree with him, I don't really hear him. What he says can be explained away, understood differently, or ignored. If I am to break free from my problem, something must happen that breaks apart the world in which he can be ignored or misunderstood. Something must happen that shows me, existentially, that there is an alternative to my self-deception about my behavior.
When we rebel against God because we are blind and deaf to the truth, only a revelation from outside the world that makes our self-deception possible, in fact requires it, can cure us. Something must break our world apart and allow us finally to see and hear. That other world must be revealed.
The Christian claim is that the other world has been revealed. It has been revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6): he is the way to the Father; in him the truth of an alternative to sin is revealed; his life reveals real life, life with God.
Jesus has come to break apart the world of sin in which we live. He, not doctrines or principles, is the revelation of the alternative to life in a fallen world. And the promise is that if we will come to him, he will bring us into another world:
He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price. Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance. Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden (2 Ne. 26:24-28).
Like the palm-frond waving crowds of Jerusalem, we too should exult in his coming and the invitation he extends. We too should come to him and cry, "Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Jn. 12:13).
4/10/2014 4:00:00 AM