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No freedom from God's moral law

December 2, 2012 12:10 am

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Hurricane Sandy felled a red oak against the porch at the White household. edwhit02a.jpg

A pile of firewood cut and stacked by community churchgoers who kindly came to assist after the storm.

ON A DARK and cold night just after Thanksgiving, I walk our quiet, dead-end country road. The sky is black, sprinkled with stars; the smell of wood smoke is in the air. Our Sheltie, Keira, is with me. I hear her off to the side, in the dry leaves. I know that she is well aware of my location, and will follow me, paralleling my route. I leave the flashlight off. It's better for thinking.

We had a difficult late summer, filled with health and job challenges, which led right into a tough fall. A routine screening pro- cedure in late September went awry, landing me first in the ER, then in the hospital for four days. A six-week recovery followed.

October brought Hurricane Sandy: While most in our area escaped damage (as our news stories breezily said), we did not. Sitting in our living room on that rainy, windy night, we heard the ominous sound of wood cracking followed by a tremendous crash that shook the house and drove us to our feet. A 100-foot red oak had fallen right next to our house, bringing two more oaks down with it. The tangle of trees barely missed us, clipping our screened-in porch and scraping our siding.

Superstorm Sandy seemed to cap off an election season that was so tense, so volatile. It seems we can no longer simply disagree in America, we have to hate each other, calling each other racists or communists (or both), spitting out our words like rocket-propelled grenades. I think of what Jesus taught: "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. [A]nyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."

Are any of us guilt-free?

It's a crazy world. Rockets from Gaza light up the sky over Israel. The Israelis respond with bombs. Egyptian President Morsi declares himself the "new pharaoh" and assumes dictatorial powers. Riots break out in Cairo. Meanwhile, chatter continues about one of America's modern-day heroes who has had an affair, betraying not only his wife, but the honor of his service to this country. But it's odd, isn't it? Why do we hold this military man to such a high standard? Could it be that, somewhere deep inside, we truly value morality and self-discipline?

Jerry Sandusky. A cheating scandal at Harvard. Benghazi. Two shot in Tallahassee. Forty-one percent of American children born out of wedlock. Western economies near collapse. The fiscal cliff looming. Where does all this come from? Greed, selfishness, avarice. We are awash in it.

ARE WE GOOD PEOPLE?

The sin nature of man is so easily proven. A local post office has one of those drive-by mailboxes out front. Numerous signs around it say, "Don't block the mailbox" and "No parking." Yet invariably, people park right there, blocking access to the box, even though there are plenty of open spaces just a few feet away. Our hearts rebel at the smallest commands. No wonder we have trouble with "Thou shalt not steal" and "Thou shalt not commit adultery."

We like to think of ourselves as good people. But we're not. None of us are. And even honest, thoughtful agnostics know that denying the reality of sin has consequences. Hobart Mauer, former president of the American Psychological Association and a skeptic about God, wrote, "We psychologists have looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus and we have acclaimed our freedom from it as epic making. But at length we have discovered to be free in this sense, to have the excuse of being sick rather than being sinful, is to also court the danger of becoming lost. In becoming amoral, ethically neutral and free, we have cut the very roots of our being, lost our deepest sense of selfhood and identity."

Did you catch that? Because we moderns have excused our behavior for decades as either illness or just "who we are," declaring freedom from a moral law we didn't want, we've lost our true identity and the deepest sense of meaning in life. Could that be why we need so many pills to keep us going? So many escapes?

THE INTERVENTION

All religious systems but one operate on the premise that man can, by his own effort, make himself moral and good. Christianity declares that the heart is so wrapped up in sin there is no hope unless God intervenes.

And that's exactly what happened in that little town of Bethlehem, on another starry night, in a land far away and yet so close. The baby born to Mary was Emmanuel, God with us, God stepping into human life to rescue us from that which we cannot see and will not admit: our sin. He did that at the cross, and in him we find not only the offer of redemption, but our truest identity: We are beloved children of God.

Overhead a jet silently blinks its way across the night sky. I am so thankful. So thankful I did not need surgery. So thankful the trees mostly missed our house. So very very thankful for friends from church who brought us meals when I was recovering and spent an entire Saturday cutting up Sandy's felled oaks, and splitting and stacking the wood. I know them well. They would be the first to tell you that they are not, by nature, "good." But somewhere along the line they met the One who is good, and he is gradually changing their hearts, releasing them from man's natural self-centeredness, freeing them to love.

Keira finds me and touches my leg with her nose. It's time to go home. Time to set up the tree. Time to put "Messiah" back on the iPod. Time to embrace the wonder of Christmas, once more.




Linda J. White is an editorial writer for The Free Lance-Star.




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