Pastor’s Friday Comments (08.14.20)

Since Adam and Eve ate that fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, no one has invented a new way to disobey God. The details may change, but it always comes down to failing to adhere to the clear boundaries of life set forth by a Creator who loves everyone and expects us to do the same.

That obedience is summarized in the two Great Commandments, love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. Anything else, either positive or negative, is simply commentary.

Having said that, however, each society seems to find its own trends of disobedience, particular ways that its members move away from God’s expectations. I’m sure there are more astute observers of our society than I who might come to a different conclusion, but my assessment is that our society today, at least here in the United States, violates the Great Commandments in three ways: ignorance, willful ignorance, and selfishness.

Ignorance is literally the state of not knowing, which hardly seems sinful in itself. However, remaining in a state of ignorance can result in harm, not only to oneself, but to others. Not knowing that others live in abject poverty while you have more than your fair share of the world’s goods is ignorance. Choosing not to find out how others live is sinful ignorance.

The classic “deadly sin” from which this trend emerges is probably (although not exclusively) laziness. It is time and energy consuming to venture outside your regular area of movement (your comfort zone) in order to discover problems that you do not confront on a daily basis yourself. It’s much easier to remain in your state of not-knowing. But that leads to the violation of the Second Great Commandment. How can you love your neighbor as much as you love yourself if you have no idea what your neighbor is experiencing?

Willful ignorance takes not-knowing to another level. It is making the choice, either consciously or unconsciously, not to become acquainted with the problems of others because to do so would create an obligation that you would prefer not to incur. This isn’t laziness; it is active disengagement from the lives of others. To connect to Jesus’ well-known parable of The Good Samaritan, it isn’t seeing the beaten man in the ditch; it is suspecting that there might be a man in the ditch and walking by on the other side so you don’t have to be confronted with the reality of his bruised and bleeding body.

I have to confess that this is the most frustrating of these three modern sins for me as a preacher. One tries to point out the vast disparities between we, the haves, and others, the have-nots. And congregants, self-professed Christians, smile blithely and never let the disturbing images enter their minds, or simply refuse to listen to any source of information (including preachers) whose message conflicts with their preconceived understanding of the world.

And that leads to the third sin of our society, selfishness. There has to be a reason that we don’t want to know what is going on in the world. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, we can’t know of the problems of the world and not do something about them. And that would mean taking literally the command of Jesus and taking up your cross and following him. Self-sacrifice is not among the most sought-after traits in our society, even among professed Christians.

Our innate trait of self-delusion being what it is, we can convince ourselves that we are simply maintaining our Christian or conservative values by our actions, but are we really? When you vote for lower taxes, are you being true to your belief in limited government, or are you voting to avoid helping someone who doesn’t have enough to survive? If you cry out for law and order when a few demonstrators destroy property, are you maintaining peace in society or are you avoiding confronting the ills of our society that have led to the level of frustration where people are taking to the streets? Isn’t selfishness at its core really just refusing to see any subject from another person’s point of view? 

Depending on what you have seen in society most recently, you may come up with some other transgressions you think more harmful, but I believe an effort at the eradication of ignorance, willful ignorance, and selfishness would go a long way toward making the world in which we live and move and have our being a better place.