The prophet Isaiah spoke of the ruin of those who magnified small things: “The scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off: That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.” [Isaiah 29:20,21]
Jesus condemned the Pharisees, who strained at gnats and swallowed camels. You can be sure that if someone is overly concerned about gnats, it is because he is choking on a camel.
Perfection does not belong to the present human condition, and is not promised to Christians. Christians cannot live without sin; it is sufficient if they live without crime in both the church and the state. When you encounter those who profess perfection by preoccupation with gnats, you can be sure that they are choking somewhere on a camel.
The simple truth is that some things are not worth making a fuss over. If you see a person making a fuss over nothing, it is because there is something else the matter. Reasonable people recognize it. My foot may hurt if someone is careless and steps on it; but the person who stomps on it deliberately is a greater sinner even if my foot is not injured as badly. I won’t react the same either. A person who deliberately stomps on my foot might need some education.
An old story is told about Johnny, a small boy who captured a wasp on his way to school one day. He put the wasp in a little metal pill box that he carried in his pocket. He forgot about the bee, but during class, the lid worked off the box and the bee began to work on Johnny.
It was in the days when children were expected to sit and keep quiet in school, but Johnny jumped and let out a yelp. “Sit still, Johnny,” the teacher said. “Yes, Ma’am,” said Johnny. The bee hit him again, and he jumped again.
“Sit still, Johnny,” the teacher said again. “Yes, Ma’am,” said Johnny.
The bee hit him again. “Ouch!” said Johnny, squirming again.
“Johnny, didn’t I tell you to sit still,” said the teacher sternly.
“Yes, Ma’am,” said Johnny. “But there is something going on back here that you don’t know nuthin’ about.”
It is true that when people are raising a fuss about some trivial matter, it is because there is something else going on that may not come to light until years later. People raise a fuss about gnats because they hope no one will notice the camel stuck in their gullet.
Jesus said that there are weightier matters in the law, weightier than paying tithes of mint, anise, and cumin. The tithes of small spices should be paid of course, but more attention should be paid to judgment, mercy, and faith.
All acts are not of the same moral equivalency. Unjustified anger is wrong, and will receive the wrath of God, but to say that unjustified anger is as bad as murder is madness. The lustful look will receive its judgment from God, but the man who says, “I looked, therefore I might as well commit adultery,” is a fool. James says that sin begins in sinful desire, but it is perfected—brought to maturity—in the act. It is an annoyance to have a baby crocodile in the bathtub; it is a catastrophe to find a ten-foot monster there. I imagine this is true, although I have never had either in my bathtub.
Have you noticed that a new code of ethics has replaced the Ten Commandments in our country? People who would never use a racial epithet think nothing of taking God’s name in vain. “O my G…” has become commonplace.
A man who would shrink from disturbing a rodent is not uncomfortable with putting thousands of people out of work, stealing their livelihood.
People who would be embarrassed to make a Hindu uncomfortable do not mind ridiculing a Christian student in a public classroom.
People who mourn over injustice done to a whale do not shrink from lies and slander to deny a Supreme Court nomination for their political rival.
A man who would insist on a woman’s right to equality will not hesitate to cheat on his own wife, and leave her in poverty in order to marry a younger and snappier woman.
A woman who would not eat canned tuna to protest the dolphins that are caught in the tuna nets murders her own unborn child.
There is a certainty here: man cannot be without morals. If he abandons biblical ones, then he will substitute others for them. He will zealously pursue his revisionist morals, and persecute and defame those who disagree with him, all the while calling Christians hypocrites when they defend theirs.
“Your God is just a God of the Gaps.” “God is for superstitious types who drag God into things that they can’t explain. It was o.k. for the old days, but science is rolling back the horizons of knowledge, and we simply don’t need God anymore.”
Modern man doesn’t like contingent things, things that may or may not come to pass. Before the age of science people needed God because they did not know what caused diseases, earthquakes, lightning, and such things. Science has shown us about causes, and we don’t need to think about God anymore. We have learned that there is a cause for everything. If we can remove the cause, the thing will not come to pass.
Thus, we have overcome smallpox and polio. We have solved the problem of production so that no one has to be hungry anymore, and greater days are still ahead. We have rolled back pollution and solved communication problems. No one will need to be lost anymore. Everyone can carry a device which communicates with a satellite and will always know where he is.
We don’t even need God as a First Cause. Who caused the First Cause? A Super-First Cause? And is there a Super-Duper-First Cause who caused the Super-First Cause? “Christians are just going in circles. We don’t need it any more. Science is going to find the causes for everything, and we don’t need God anymore.” So it goes.
The other day I was reading Albert Borgmann’s article “Contingency and Grace in an Age of Science and Technology,” in the April, 2002, issue of Theology Today, where he is wrestling with the problem of contingency. If we finally explain the causes for everything, what room will there be in our universe for God? I was feeling a little low, for we Christian types often feel that we are trying to sweep back the ocean with a broom.
Shortly after I had read Borgmann’s article, I heard on the radio about a bitter disillusioned German boy who had gone into a school and shot and killed almost twenty of his classmates. I thought of Columbine, 9-11, and other “contingencies.” As Solomon would have put it, I understood wisdom, a little bit anyway. Man in control? You’ve got to be kidding. Maybe that is why our twenty-first century, jaded, and cynical generation paused a little after 9-11 and thought of God.
What control do we have after all? Isn’t it just an illusion of control? We can claim a measure of control if we limit that which is knowable to the physical world. But how do we control the dark and gloomy spirits that would drive airplanes into buildings, in the service of their dark gods? What good is all our technology and control if we cannot control the imaginations of a murderer? How can we put the soul under the microscope and learn its substance, to separate the dark strands from the light? What about the dark angels that serve God’s purposes? There are such, you know. One of them slew all the firstborn of Egypt. Another dispatched 180,000 Assyrians in one night.
“Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” He has not told us most of what He has decreed so that we might trust and rest in Him. This is why we are not to boast and say that tomorrow we will go to town and do this or that. We do not know what a day will bring forth, because we do not know the mind of God. We labor in the Bible to know what is revealed. For the rest we trust.