Part 4 in a series
Know and consider the wonderful love and mercy of God, and think what he has done for you; and you will hate sin, and be ashamed of it. It is an aggravation which makes sin odious even to common reason and ingenuity, that we should offend a God of infinite goodness, who has filled up our lives with mercy. It will grieve you if you have wronged an extraordinary friend: his love and kindness will come into your thoughts, and make you angry with your own unkindness. Here look over the catalogue of God’s mercies to you, for soul and body. And here observe that Satan, in hiding the love of God from you, and tempting you under the pretence of humility to deny his greatest, special mercy, seeks to destroy your repentance and humiliation, also, by hiding the greatest aggravation of your sin. ~From Richard Baxter (1615-1691), "Directions for Hating Sin."
I had to go look up the word “aggravation” to try to understand how it was used in the quote above. One of its meanings is, “Action that makes a problem or a disease (or its symptoms) worse.” So what Baxter is pointing out is something we all instinctively know…it’s bad for a dog to bite, but it’s worse for him to bite the hand that feeds him. It’s bad to sin no matter what, but it’s worse to sin against purity, innocence, and goodness. The goodness of God makes our sinfulness against Him even worse.
But what if we don’t understand the goodness of the one we’re sinning against?
As I’ve been trying to point out in previous posts, we have to re-think our ideas of purity, innocence, and goodness. In our modern culture, we associate innocence with naiveté. We think of sensitivity as weakness, and paint our heroes with the brush of callousness towards sin. We admire the “hard-bitten” fellows who’ve been around the block a few times. Innocence and purity are nice things for children, but in adults they’re an aberration, freakish and out-of-touch.
We don’t call moral filth “dirty” anymore. We just call it “adult entertainment.” By implication then, those of us who don’t consume filth are childish, inferior, and stunted in our development. In our culture, a call to innocence and purity is a call to regression. It insults the pride of those who think that sin is sophistication.
And so we have ceased to honor the purity and innocence of our Lord. He is viewed as obsolete, and his followers as childish, timid “do-gooders” who can’t cope with the realities that mature adults can handle with ease.
Why do we see it that way?
Because it’s true that, among sinful creatures like ourselves, innocence only accompanies infancy. The longer we live, the more our “eyes are opened” to sin. The kind of innocence we’re familiar with is the kind which cannot survive “hard knocks” in the “real world.”
That’s why, as far as many people are concerned, if God is still innocent, then He is a naive inferior; one whom our culture is tired of humoring. Let Him go entertain Himself with His baby toys if that’s what makes Him happy, but He’d better leave the rest of us alone to enjoy the perks of our adulthood.
And if that’s how we view “innocence” and “purity” in our culture, then how do we view “goodness?” Quite simply, we view it by how it affects us or reflects on us. And we attach the word “goodness” to actions more than to people. Therefore we conclude that it does not matter if our politicians exhibit a degraded moral character, as long as we approve of the laws they pass. We reject moral absolutes, excusing even the grossest perversion by saying, “Whom does it hurt?” Goodness matters only if we, or someone we care about, are the ones adversely affected by its absence. “Too much” goodness is viewed with the same condescension that is aimed toward innocence.
As a culture, we’re proud of our sin. And yet to us, a voice 300 years dead says, “Know and consider the wonderful love and mercy of God, and think what he has done for you; and you will hate sin, and be ashamed of it.”
I hope to God that we have not come so far in our degradation that we’re past feeling such an appeal. Perhaps we could feel the force of those words more strongly if we had clearer thoughts of what God’s attributes really are.
His innocence and purity are not naiveté. He sees the horror of sin far more clearly than you and I can. His innocence exists because, despite all of history’s insults towards Him, all of the evil which has infected and perverted His creation, even all of the temptations which He faced when He wore human flesh, he still remains powerfully uncompromising. There is no darkness in Him. He remains, and always will remain, unutterably Holy.
Humanity’s “eyes were opened” in Eden when we believed the lie and ate of the forbidden fruit. But our eyes were opened only to see how life appears when viewed by warped, depraved souls. Sin is like a psychedelic drug. It enables people to see distortions we could not see before, but it also blinds us to truth, renders us useless, and at the same time convinces us that we’ve entered a higher plane.
When humans “lose our innocence,” it is not because we have seen sin, but because when we are exposed to sin, we feel the dormant sin in our own hearts stirring to life. We are drawn, even by that which horrifies us. We are deceived and lured toward our own destruction. We’ve discovered the part of ourselves that falls for the lie every time. And we tend to congratulate ourselves for making this discovery. We’re not children anymore!
God is undeceived. His goodness, purity, and innocence are not things which shrink away from evil with a horrified shudder, crying “I can’t handle it!” He is not somehow our inferior. Instead, because of His goodness and innocence, he destroys evil with unquenchable fire.
Yes, mercy is part of God’s goodness, and it’s flowing right now with unfathomable generosity. But justice is also a vital part of goodness, and the day is coming when justice will decisively act against sin. Justice and mercy are but two sides of the same “coin” of God’s goodness, and to reject one side is to reject both.
God’s goodness offers merciful forgiveness to sinners now, and God’s goodness will one day withdraw that offer from those who reject it, and will render the goodness of retributive justice in its place. Will you be one who received His mercy by repenting of sin and turning to Him as your life, your joy, your all? Or will you be one who treasured your sinful “sophistication” and despised His goodness?
It will depend on your view of sin, and your view of His goodness. I pray that, in considering His goodness, you will find yourself hating the sin that would separate you from His kindness and mercy.
Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
Rom 2:4 (HCSB)