‘Now, mortal man, tell the Israelites that when someone good sins, the good he has done will not save him’ (Ezekiel 33:12 GNB).
‘My help will come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth’ (Psalm 121:2 GNB).
Do you ever lie awake at night ruminating over an incident in your life, or something wrong you once did? Even if it was years ago, does the memory still make you feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty?
Just one tiny sliver of evil is enough to knock our life off course. It all started with an infraction we might think was relatively minor. ‘Did God really tell you not to eat fruit from any tree in the garden?’ (Genesis 3:1). Through this temptation, the serpent succeeded in shattering the bond of love and trust between humankind and God. Every day we experience the results of that lost relationship all around us and within us.
That God didn’t bring everything to an end right there and then was an act of grace. In love he sent his Son as the new Adam, to voluntarily take our place. Jesus bore our guilt and shame. When he died and rose, he took them and their punishment away. Now they can only harm us when we choose to step outside the new loving, trusting relationship we have with God through him. The judgement over sin is gone, but original sin lingers, tempting us not to trust God, not to trust Jesus for our salvation and not to love others as we ourselves are loved.
This is a time of overlapping realities. Right and wrong, good and evil, righteousness and sin are sometimes simple choices. More often, however, within a situation, they can be stubborn, complex dilemmas. They are made harder because the sin that clings to us most is our self-regard and, with it, our sense of self-righteousness.
We fool ourselves if we try to caricature such moral complexity as black and white, ‘goodies and baddies’, usually with the result that we blame someone or something else. For instance, ‘Black Lives Matter’ promotes an obvious truth that we can yet be blind to. Racism is sin and too often it’s built into the system in ways that we don’t even see. But replacing one prejudice with another will not solve the problem. We will only get better when we take responsibility and learn from our mistakes and those of earlier generations. Otherwise, whatever noble intentions we may have, we won’t be able to touch the real problem, the one inside ourselves.
In this complex time of difficult moral choices, we pray: ‘Almighty God, our maker and redeemer, we confess to you that by nature we are sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against you by thought, word, and deed.’ We need not fear praying this radical prayer, which comes from the LCA Service of the Word. Sin is not just a few accidents or mistakes; it is the total corruption of our being. Faith sets us free to confess such sin, certain of God’s gracious pardon. God still loves us and welcomes us. In baptism, he has washed away our sin and raised us to new life. Each day we live once more in that baptismal grace.
So, if you do lie awake at night ruminating, remember that your God is there with you, just as he always has been. You can fall asleep peacefully in the knowledge that you are a forgiven sinner. And when the morning comes you can rise, assured by your baptism, armed with God’s promise and ready to be a blessing to all those God sends your way that day.