But, God loves us and knows what he is doing

ALL PEOPLE ARE IMMORAL BUT SOME PEOPLE ARE MORE IMMORAL THAN OTHERS

by
Ted Bisceglia


        In George Orwell's fable of the Russian revolution, Animal Farm, he describes an animal society borne out of revolt against the tyrannical rule of the owner of the farm. In their uprising the animals unify themselves under a spirit of equality and shared hardship from which springs the foundation of their newfound society. After the overthrow of the old master, a meeting is convened and the pigs, having learned to read and write, explain to the rest of the animals that they had succeeded in reducing the precepts of "Animalism" to Seven Commandments, commandments that will prevent them from ever having to live under the yoke of their human oppressors again.

        These Seven Commandments would now be inscribed on the wall; they would form an unalterable law by which all the animals on Animal Farm must live for ever after. With some difficulty (for it is not easy for a pig to balance himself on a ladder) Snowball climbed up and set to work, with Squealer a few rungs below him holding the paint-pot. The commandments were written on the tarred wall in great white letters that could be read thirty yards away. They ran thus:

THE SEVEN COMMANDMENTS
1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal
.
(George Orwell. Animal Farm, New York: Signet Classics. 1946, pp. 32-33)

        Over time, human nature (or should I say animal nature?) began to take its course. The pigs began to realize just how easily the other animals could be manipulated, and began exploiting the other animals for their own gain through scare tactics and by distorting the truth through altering the commandments. Over time it became increasingly difficult for the other animals to comprehend what had actually been gained as a result of their rebellion. Had they truly been liberated from their tyrannical former master, or had they just found a new tyrannical master?

        For a minute or two they stood gazing at the tarred wall with its white lettering.
        "My sight is failing," she said finally. "Even when I was young I could not have read what was written there. But it appears to me that that wall looks different. Are the Seven Commandments the same as they used to be, Benjamin?"
        For once Benjamin consented to break his rule, and he read out to her what was written on the wall. There was nothing there now except for a single Commandment. It ran:
        ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
        BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS (Orwell, p. 123)

        Now look at some of the headlines that we read of daily.
  • Paul Hill, a former Presbyterian minister, was sentenced to death for the shotgun slayings of a Pensecola abortion doctor and his bodyguard.
  • Local churches speak out against the "Gay Agenda." Pronounce homosexuals as sinners bound for hell.
  • John Salvi is arrested for the slaying of two abortion clinic workers and the wounding of others in a Christmas day shooting rampage.

        Sound familiar? Could it be that some people are more moral than others? While the majority of Christians would denounce these tactics as extremist, the attitudes on which they are founded are discernable on lower (and not quite so newsworthy) levels; though attitudes may not be actions, they are just as damaging in our local churches. There is only one bullet separating an attitude from an action. And yet as Christians we are expressly commanded not to render self-righteous judgments:

        Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

        "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

        Have we distorted the meaning and intent of our Lord's commandment to the point that the good news of salvation from our fallen condition, has been laid aside for hate monger preaching and politics that condemn any who think or act differently from the way we do?
        Is our memory so faded and hazy as to forget the depth from which we have been pulled? Why is it so hard to accept the fact that when an individual, who has not entered into a personal relationship with God, engages in reprehensible activity, he does so because there is nothing within him to make him desire anything different?
        When Jesus was preaching the sermon on the mount, one of the contrasts He made was in the way the world loves compared to the way a Christian should love:

        But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:44-47)

        When a Christian's love is expressed only to those like themselves, what have they done that's any different than the rest of society? Do not even the pagans do that? When we clique with others like us the natural result is the dehumanizing of anyone not calling themselves Christians. We do this by calling them "them" and then placing "them" into nice neat little categories segregated by their respective symptom of depravity. Sin is then defined as anything "we" don't do. "They" become an enemy, something to fight against, a cause, a rallying point for the troops and a scapegoat for all that ails society and the human race. We have taken Romans 3:23, For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God -- the root of the problem with the human race and the basis of our need for a Savior who was beyond that problem -- and we have added our own self-righteous twist: some have sinned more and fallen shorter than others. It is as if on the side of the Church it is written:

ALL PEOPLE ARE IMMORAL
BUT SOME PEOPLE ARE MORE IMMORAL THAN OTHERS

        Instead of illuminating the dark places we stay far away from them and place more candles in our own safe haven until we are in danger of burning the place down. Instead of having a holiness that is inspired by God and able to co-exist with the world without being a part of, or in love with the world, we create our own holiness based on our own strengths and our own ability to modify our behavior. If we want to condemn sin then we must be willing to condemn all sin: from murder, to failing to love God. If we are willing to kill an abortion doctor, or protest a gay rights rally, then we must also be willing to kill an adherent to any religion other than Christianity and picket our neighbors' house if they are living together out of wedlock. Consider how we denounce alcohol while embracing gluttony! Why do we make this distinction? Because for most of us, it's easier to quit drinking than to quit eating. When will we realize that the distinction we make is not shared by God?

        Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags. (Proverbs 23:20-21)

        How is it that the Church can set levels of morality on the rest of the population while ignoring its own shortcomings? It is a matter of semantics and self-righteousness (understanding, of course, that the root cause is our genetic link to Adam).
        I say semantics because Christians can set their own morality simply by redefining words. Have you ever heard a Christian say "I was a sinner, but I was never immoral." The person making this statement believes it to be true because they define "immorality" as having to do with sex. In reality, immorality is simply the inability to discern right and wrong. Illicit sex does not have a monopoly on this word. You are immoral if you have ever chosen the wrong thing over the right thing.
        Redefining our language to fit our lifestyles is nothing strange or new, of course, for this is the very essence of self-righteousness.
        Self-righteousness can be defined as: "I think I'm right, therefore I must be right"; it can also be defined as selfishness or self-justification. It is a person's ability to perceive all things in relation to and revolving around himself personally. This shouldn't come as a big surprise to us, since we acknowledge this very human trait in all children. Children are unashamedly egocentric; it is only as they grow older, that they learn -- not how to overcome, but, how to hide -- that egocentric trait and to doublespeak those natural tendencies. And again, this is not something new to humanity. The very first act of self-righteousness occurred in the garden of Eden. It was there that Adam and Eve chose to do what they thought was right even though God had expressly told them not to and warned them of the dangers of doing so. It is no small stretch to say that all people who have ever lived on the planet, who are living on the planet and who will ever live on the planet are self-righteous. Only through Jesus Christ can this ego problem be placed under control and ultimately eliminated altogether.
        The results of this judgmental behavior on the part of Christians not only ignores the gospel, but if left unrepented of, it becomes antagonistic to the gospel. Instead of reaching out to the lost, we repel them.

        "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:13)

        I am reminded of the scenario in Shakespeare's comedy The Merchant of Venice, where Salerio asks Shylock (a victim of anti-semitism) if he will really take a pound of Antonio's flesh should he default on his loan. After all what good is a pound of flesh to anybody? Shylock replies with bitterness:

        "To bait fish withal. If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgrac'd me and hind'red me half a million; laugh'd at my losses, mock'd at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies. And what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes?
        Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
        If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility?
        Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."

        Shylock's point is well taken: "The villainy you teach me I will execute." The spirit of this statement is also found in Jesus' warning to the religious leaders of His day:

        "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of Hell as you are. (Matthew 23:15)

        Most expositors deal with this passage on a surface level, describing the religious leaders' efforts at finding and getting a person to think and believe like they do, thereby making them twice as much a son of Hell. I believe there is also a more subtle twist that Jesus was alluding to and that is what happens to the ones they can't get to think like them: do they become any less a son of Hell? Not at all, for they too become just as much a son of Hell, if not more for in their preaching, the Pharisees have succeeded in building a wall separating "us" from "them", and no common ground can ever again be found; the walls of prejudice have succeeded in making those who reject, an enemy.
        Because of the walls we have raised against homosexuals, you will be hard-pressed to find a gay man or woman who is willing to listen to anything a Christian has to say. Because of the walls raised against pro-choicers, we will never have credibility in their eyes. Their sin problem has now been compounded by generations of hate and segregation just because we find their particular symptom of the fall worse than others. These people are now strengthened in their resolve, and battle lines are drawn, and they are further from the truth than ever before: "The villainy you teach me I will execute!"
        A while back, I happened to catch a 20/20 interview with Charles Manson and some of his followers. Interestingly, his followers have all denounced him and have apparently repented of their actions. Diane Sawyer, who was conducting the interview, talked with Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecuting attorney. When asked if he thought that these Manson women should be paroled, he responded that there is something in them, that is not in us, that would allow them to commit such a grisly crime; he insisted that most of us could never do such a thing.
        Baloney, baloney, baloney! The same thing is inside all of us -- it just takes different perspectives to unleash it. Consider the Balkan wars. These are people just like us who are annihilating one another without any good reason. Consider some of the comments from people regarding the recent Susan Smith tragedy. I even found myself designing horrific ways of torturing and killing her that would sufficiently repay her for the horrible way she killed her children. Consider the reaction to the slaying of Jeffery Dahmer. One woman called his murderer, (another convicted murderer) a hero.
        No, Mister Bugliosi: call a man your enemy, and it becomes quite easy to justify your actions no matter how extreme they may be.
        The creation of enemies is the creation of war. There can be no war where there are not people who consider each other enemies. Because of the perceived war against the world that "we" are fighting, the Church is forever portrayed in the media as fools and friends of fools. But one can't help seeing that the punishment fits the crime. We are not made fun of and criticized because we won't relent in our message of love and salvation, we are criticized because we are forever forgetting the precepts of salvation -- and resorting to ridicule and judgment of all "them" sinners. It is one thing for a Christian to be beat up while faithfully following Christ; it is quite another to receive the beating you deserve.

        But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (1 Peter 2:20)

        More than ever we must never forget that "we" are, fundamentally, no different than "them". To be more specific, what is the difference between a convicted murderer on death row who has been pardoned -- and a convicted murderer on death row who hasn't? Are they not both murderers? Do they not both deserve death? The only difference is that one of the murderers has been given a second chance, but that second chance does not give him the right to throw stones. On the other hand that second chance doesn't give him the right to resume his life of crime, either.
        But again, some Christians may say that they are very moral -- that is, they do not steal, they don't murder, they don't commit adultery, etc. They argue that there is a vast gulf separating the sweet little old lady who donates her time and money to helping those less fortunate than herself and a Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson.
        Friends, that gulf exists only in our own subjective morality. God does not make that distinction. Consider what James wrote:

        For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10)

        To understand what James is talking about consider our current scientific method:

        One of the basic principles of scientific testing can therefore be stated roughly in the following manner: the outcome of a certain test cannot confirm a theory unless it is logically possible that there could be another outcome that would have disconfirmed the theory.

        Simply put, a theory can continue to be trusted the longer it withstands attempts to disprove it. However, if a particular theory "passes" the first 99 tests but fails on the 100th the whole theory, in its existing form, is invalid and it's back to the drawing board for reworking and adjustment. Likewise there is no measurement for lesser or greater sins, because it is quite clear that failing in just one little area, no matter how insignificant, invalidates the theory of our "inherent morality". And like a scientific theory, we must either be scrapped or modified.
        Take this a step further -- all the way back to the garden of Eden. If the prototypes of humanity, Adam and Eve, failed to discern the right thing, making them imperfect or fallen, then what kind of children will they produce? If this "bad" choice changed them physically, and henceforth genetically, then what are the ramifications for their descendants who will inherit half of each of their parents' genetic blueprint? The obvious conclusion is that the imperfect prototypes will produce imperfect children, who will have imperfect grandchildren, and imperfect great-grandchildren, and so on, up to our present generation. Some Christians are very bored with the genealogies in Genesis, but part of their purpose was to illustrate this very point:

        When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth...
        Altogether, Adam lived 930 years, and then he died...
        Altogether, Seth lived 912 years, and then he died...
        Altogether, Enosh lived 905 years, and then he died. (Gen 5:3-11)

        And then they died and then they died and then they died -- and they have been dying ever since. Part of the reason that the majority of people fight death is because they know that there should be something else. Solomon wrote that "He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
        What then is the difference between "us" and "them"? It is in our sanctification, our being set apart by grace, through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the resultant gift of the Holy Spirit.

        What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)

        Only Jesus, who is God, could die in our place and suffer our punishment brought on by the sin of Adam and offer us a rebirth through His resurrection from the dead.

        In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3)

        For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)

        This act of being set apart or redeemed by the grace of God is what naturally separates us from the world. But like the pardoned murderer it gives us no right to either cast stones or to continue in our former ways. On the contrary, it gives us hope and changes our sinful desires. Where once we had no hope and had no choice, now through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, we have been given both hope and a brand new desire that results in good deeds.

        For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

        Those good deeds are the results of our reconciled relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Now, instead of only being able to guess about right and wrong, we have the choice of obeying the voice of our Lord and Savior and choosing that which is right (not because we decided it was right, but because God determined it was right). But we must not forget that this is not an option for those who have not been liberated by grace through faith in Jesus Christ:

        When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:20-23)

        So how can Christians continue to tolerate and be fooled by the politics of hate and segregation brought on by self-righteousness? And where will it end? The answers lie in the response of Christians to God's truth. The Bible is God's special revelation to His chosen people and it speaks the truth to us on these very matters and only as these answers are given to us, can we take them to heart and ask God to change our attitudes in order that the Church might be better equipped to be ambassadors of God, bringing a message of reconciliation to a condemned world.
        At the end of the book, Animal Farm, the pigs have degenerated into the very creatures they had rebelled against: they are living in the house, sleeping in the bed, doing business with other humans, wearing human clothes and walking on two feet. A few of the animals who were survivors of the original rebellion observed the following:

        But as the animals outside gazed at the scene, it seemed to them than some strange thing was happening. What was it that had altered in the faces of the pigs? Clover's old dim eyes flitted from one face to another. Some of them had five chins, some had four, some had three. But what was it that seemed to be melting and changing? Then the applause having come to an end, the company took up their cards and continued the game that had been interrupted, and the animals crept silently away.
        But they had not gone twenty yards when they stopped short. An uproar of voices was coming from the farmhouse. They rushed back and looked through the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr. Pinkerton had each played an ace of spades simultaneously.
        Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man,and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. (Orwell, p. 128)

        I can't help but recognize the similarity as our neighbors look from the faces of Christians to the faces of the world, and from the faces of the world back to the faces of Christians. Will they be able to tell which is which? You'd better hope so.

        Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:22-23)

        Now who is more immoral?


The Complaint of Jacob        

The Complaint of Jacob by R.P. Nettelhorst

       Jacob’s life was not a particularly easy one and his family life, both growing up, and then as an adult was certainly what would fit the modern definition of being “dysfunctional.”
       So, to say the least, Jacob was not at all happy. The one true love of his life was dead. Joseph, his favorite, the oldest son of his beloved, had been dead for twenty-five years. And now Simeon had been taken from him, and this monster in Egypt was demanding the last link he had to his dead lover. Beside himself with grief, we find his reaction in Genesis 42:36 where it all comes down to this:

Their father Jacob said to them, "You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!"

       And certainly it was the case that the circumstances of his life, from his perspective, from the perspective of his sons standing around him, made his complaint fully reasonable and perfectly understandable. And yet, the fascinating thing about his words, for those of us reading the story, is that we know that he couldn’t be more wrong, despite the fact that his words seemed so obviously true to Jacob – unassailably true, in fact. But we the readers of this little episode, know something that Jacob doesn’t: we know that Joseph is not only not dead, but he is second in command in Egypt, the most powerful and most wealthy nation on the planet at that time. We also know that there’s no way for poor Jacob to know that.
       So the reality of Jacob’s existence is that everything could hardly be better. His favorite son has done very well for himself, thank you. Good job, and great future, with money to burn. Poor Jacob simply doesn’t know this yet. His perception, his perspective of reality, is incorrect.
       And we, the readers, can do nothing to alleviate Jacob’s suffering just now. And God didn’t do anything about it either. It’ll be another year before Jacob learns the truth of what his life is really like. For twenty-five years he mourned for someone who was not dead at all. He bemoans his fate as a miserable one, though his family is absolutely powerful and prosperous. But he doesn’t know any of that; in fact, he has no way of knowing any of that.
       September 11, 2001 was thus an exceptionally bad day (to say the least) and raised numerous questions in the minds of many people about the nature of existence, about the goodness of God, about what it is really, that God wants and expects out of all of us. How do we live in a world where this sort of thing can happen? How do we face the crises of life, both small and great? Is there some key to life, some playbook we can get, some list we can follow, some formula we can memorize that will get us through life in one piece, with ourselves and our families living productive and prosperous lives? What does Jacob's complaint tell us about our relationship to God and the world?

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Fiction

John of the Apocalypse        

John of the Apocalypse by R.P. Nettelhorst

       If everything in your life went wrong, wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus came and told you why? “Why doesn’t God do something?” It was a question heavy on John’s mind. He had seen all his companions bleed and die; thousands of his compatriots had been slaughtered by a brutal tyranny. It seemed such an odd way for God to treat his most faithful servants. John was just a lonely old man exiled for his beliefs on the island of Patmos. And then Jesus unexpectedly showed up with good news and an explanation.

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