Bad to the Bone
Bad to the Bone
On all sides today we are reminded that something in this world has gone wrong. Women are abducted in increasing numbers. Precious children suffer. Marriages go awry. Addictions run rampant. Violence fills the streets. Those with power abuse it. Those with resources to help others hoard more than they really need. The elderly are cast aside. More and more of us get lost in the mounting clutter, the hurried competition, the crazy clamor of our times. Almost everyone agrees that there is something wrong with our race that demands some confession.
Some confess this way: "Benevolent and easy-going Father, we have occasionally been guilty of errors of judgment. We have lived under the deprivations of heredity and the disadvantages of environment. We have sometimes failed to act in accordance with common sense. We have done the best we could in the circumstances, and have been careful not to ignore the common standards of decency. And we are glad to think that we are fairly normal. Do thou, O Lord, deal lightly with our infrequent lapses. Be thy own sweet Self with those who admit they are not perfect, according to the unlimited tolerance which we have a right to expect from thee. And grant as an indulgent parent that we may hereafter continue to live a harmless and happy life and keep our self-respect."
But does this describe what is wrong? When our children come to us and ask one day: "Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma—why are things so messed up?" will we tell them that the problems we face are simply the result of deprivations and disadvantages? Will we tell them that the difficulties that confront us are simply the result of minor lapses of judgment? Will we tell them that the human race is merely in need of a bit more tolerance, a lot better education, another leap in technology?
We must confront the brutal facts.
In his bestselling book, Good to Great, Stanford professor Jim Collins suggests that true transformation, whether of an organization or an individual, demands an uncommon willingness to confront the brutal facts—not about what is going on in the world outside us—but the brutal facts about what is going on in the world within us. USC professor Dallas Willard puts the same idea this way: "The greatest obstacle to effective [progress] … today is a simple failure to understand and acknowledge the reality of the human situation … We must start from where we really are."
The biblical worldview attempts to define where we really are. The Bible claims that the brutal fact that must be confronted if we are to progress in any way toward that life of health and harmony for which everyone yearns is that we are all sinners. Ecclesiastes 7:20 reads, "There is not a … [person] on earth who does what is right and never sins." The apostle Paul says: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The prophet Isaiah claims, "All of us have become like one who is unclean." That's Biblespeak for "diseased." "We all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away."
When the Bible speaks of "sin" it means separation from God and all that flows from that separation. Sin is the divorce of the human heart from its Source and all the agonizing consequences that proceed from that break-up. Sin is like the snapping of a branch from the vine that once sustained it and all of the drying and withering and further cracking that comes as a result of that separation. Sin is like a break in our spiritual DNA and all the deformities that proceed from that mutation.
In other words, while sin is often visible on the surface, it is not a superficial problem. Jesus says in Mark 7: "From within … come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make man 'unclean.'" In other words, sin is not moral acne that can be handled with a bit better washing, the latest cream or cover-stick. Sin is spiritual bone cancer. It is an inherited badness in the bone of our nature that spreads throughout our system—affecting our heart, mind, soul, and strength—and then affecting the health of our families, businesses, schools, and societies.
Like cancer, sin wars against all that is still good and beautiful about the image of God in humanity. Unless we face it and pursue the fix for it, the brutal truth is that sin will kill us. As the apostle Paul says in Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death." Unaddressed sin leads to an eternal separation from God in the next life. Unaddressed sin leads to all the little deaths that afflict our character, our relationships, and all the circles reported in our news every day. If we get close to being honest, we will recognize that sin is what is wrong.
We must listen to loving prophets.
The life of David of Israel teaches us something about sin, and more importantly about its cure. For one thing, David's life shows us that sin, like cancer, starts small. Most of us know the tale of David and Bathsheba, recorded in 2 Samuel 11. We know how, at the start, David simply caught a glimpse of Bathsheba bathing upon a rooftop. He simply indulged what might have been a passing fantasy, until that interest swelled into a hot desire that made him call for the woman. Then David slept with Bathsheba and impregnated her. Then he tried to cover it up by having her husband come sleep with her. When that didn't work, David arranged to have Bathsheba's husband killed in battle. The illicit child would later die. David's family would fall apart. His son Absalom would come to hate his father and become a murderer himself. And what had once been the greatest united empire Israel ever knew would finally collapse.
Have you seen the damage that a little sin does, how it grows, how it spreads, how it destroys more and more? I could tell you stories from my own life about this. It is hard to face these things. It is hard to face the lust or the pride, the anger or envy, the greed or gluttony, the sloth or anxiety which can start out so small and become such a cancer. It is so easy to blame others, to blame our environment or circumstances. It is so hard to be honest about what is wrong.
What a gift if God sends us a Nathan. Do you know that part of David's story? 2 Samuel 12 tells us that "The Lord sent [the prophet] Nathan to David." He told David the story of a wealthy man with lots of sheep who, in his greed, insisted upon having for himself the one little ewe lamb that was the lone comfort and joy of a very poor man. Upon hearing this tale, the Scriptures say David burned with anger against the rich man and said to Nathan, "As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die!" Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man!"
Why is it that we can so easily see the sin outside ourselves and so slowly see the sin within? In his letter to Titus, Paul says that sin "corrupts" our "minds and conscience." As a result, writes Anais Nin, "We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are." It is why we so desperately need to be in community with others who can help us see our part in what is truly wrong. Whom do you love so much that you are willing to be a Nathan to them? Who are the Nathans in your life? Have you ever dared ask someone to be a loving prophet to you?
We must recognize the path to and power of renewal.
I heard a story recently about a man who got very good at talking about God and telling other people how to walk with God. He worked 80 hours a week trying to be God for people searching for God. He became a public personality, an organizational executive, a polished communicator. Sadly, however, he forgot to live in interactive relationship with God himself. He failed to show his kids what it looked like to actually walk in trusting relationship with God himself, to observe the Sabbath, to be a man of prayer, to cherish his wife. He made time for everything but the most important things. I heard the man's story and thought, "What a fool." And then God said through his loving prophet, "Daniel, you are the man."
"Have mercy on me, O God," I pray with David today, "according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions … Against you"—against your desires for living, God—"have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight … Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me … wash me … and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice … Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me … Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then," perhaps, I will really be able to "teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you … For you do not delight … in burnt [out] offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a contrite heart."
What is the story God might tell you today—not to exult in your breakdown, but to be exalted in your breakthrough? What would God say to you is wrong, so that He might help make it right? Perhaps you've blamed circumstances without instead of examining issues within. Maybe you've gotten separated from God, broken from the Vine, divorced from the Source or from His servants who could help you live in a different way. What small step might you take in the days ahead to let God restore or establish for the first time that life-changing relationship?
For it is God, King David went on to say in the 139th Psalm, it is God who "created [your] inmost being." It is God who "knit [your bones] together in [your] mother's womb." And God has the power to make what was bad and broken become beautiful and healthy again. This is the Word of the Lord.
Dan Meyer is pastor of Christ Church.us, a nondenominational, multisite church with locations in Oak Brook and Lombard, Illinois.