Basket of Figs

Published 2002-7

Bud Powell

Trinity Covenant RCUS, Colorado Springs


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Moral Equivalency?

Are all sins the same?  I have known Christian school teachers who thought so.  They reasoned this way:  every sin is against the infinite God.  Therefore, every sin has an infinite quality to it and deserves the infinite wrath of God.  Therefore, all sins might be considered equal.  The reasoning appears sound in the abstract.  It is certainly true that every sin deserves the righteous judgment of God.  The devil is in the details, however.

A few years ago a man who was rather well known in Christian circles in Colorado Springs was involved in an adulterous relationship, cheating on his wife.  He decided that his lover should murder his wife so they could enjoy life together.  His justification:  “We have already committed adultery.  All sins are the same in the eyes of God.  We will not be in any more trouble if we murder my wife.”  They did; they are now in prison.

About the same time we had a rule in the school forbidding the children to chew gum.  One day in class I made reference to the fact that some sins are worse than others.  One student objected:  “I thought all sins are the same.”

“Do you chew gum in school,” I asked.    She admitted it.

“Do you know it is wrong?”  She did.

“If you really think that chewing gum is as bad as murder, then you are a dangerous person to know,” I said.  “Trying to make small sin terrible, does not make them terrible.  All we do is trivialize great sins.  You are dangerous if you think that chewing gum is as bad as murder, for I know that you chew gum in class.”

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.


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