Yesterday at the gym I was “biking” to nowhere, grateful that the TV in front of me was set on the Olympics and that the Olympics was set on rhythmic gymnastics. I know, I know, not everyone’s favorite sport, but I was entranced. I peddled and peddled and watched young, agile bodies perform almost impossible movements – wrapping spines around soccer-sized balls, spinning hula hoops with one over-head foot, twisting and rolling and never losing sight of the props, always graceful and fluid and elegant. It was enough to make you think that maybe humans could be perfect. It was enough to make me realize why our Christian gospel often falls on deaf ears.
Human beings are amazing. That’s why we all love the Olympics – it’s a chance to see our fellow humans achieving astounding things – running ever faster, jumping higher, performing ever more challenging dives. We are all impressed with ourselves – the proof is right there on the TV; human beings are amazing.
So what’s with this “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” thing? Isn’t the glory of the Olympics enough? Look at what people can do, what awful conditions they can overcome, what remarkable beauty they can produce, what mind-boggling skills they can develop. And they all seem like such nice, good people; they train 24-7 – they don’t have time to get into any trouble. Original sin? Total depravity? Surely you jest.
No, I don’t. Eternal life is not the Olympics – it has nothing to do with what we do in this world. We can appear perfect, perform perfectly, win every competition, work, give, help, smile – and never get even close to pleasing the one being we have to please. Almighty God.
Let’s look at the concept of perfection, which is difficult to do. It’s like thinking about infinity – our brains really don’t stretch that far. We get out on the edge of our experience, which is not anywhere near infinite or perfect, and our thinking gets all furry and we tend to run back into our own safe measures of things. Good is my grandmother, love is my mom, strong is my husband, brave is the boy who saved his little brother in a fire. We have to default to human examples because infinite perfection is hard to even grasp, let alone attain. Yet that is what we must be – infinitely perfect – in order to spend eternity with God. (Luckily there’s an escape route – I’ll deal with that later.)
It isn’t enough to be better than the spiteful neighbor lady, the town drunk, the hooker, the thief, the politician; we have to be as good as God, i.e. -- perfect. Why? Why isn’t it enough just to be as good as we can be? Because real good isn’t relative – it’s absolute. And we all know that the better our behavior, the more likely it is that we become self-righteous and judgmental – both of which are imperfect.
And here’s the tricky part – God knows what we think (He’s faultless, remember? His omniscience is perfect as well as His righteousness and His justice.) so we can’t fool Him. This business of eternal life is not just behavioral – “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”(Proverbs 23:7)
Even if it were just a matter of keeping it together morally, we have to remember that morality is more than the Ten Commandments. The Law that Moses brought down from the mountain 2,500 years ago contained 613 commandments and James pointed out (James 2:10) that if anyone failed to keep just one of those rules, he had failed all of them. This heaven-or-hell thing is absolute, on/off, yes/no. Nothing is pro-rated. If we sin (and we all do) and then grow up and conduct ourselves with more integrity, we still have not erased that original debt; we’re still guilty.
Why is God so unreasonable? Well, let’s scurry back to relative territory so we can understand.
Let’s say you discovered that a person you thought of as a friend was pushing drugs at the local high school, or molesting Boy Scouts, or stealing from his grandmother. Would you be able to continue casually hanging out with such a person? Could you keep yucking it up with someone who would do those things? I wouldn’t want to sit down at the table with him, to introduce him to my children, or to have him in my home. Standards are standards and some part of us knows that they must be met. (I’m not advocating treating our fellow man rudely or failing to try to help when someone goes astray, but most decent people would not continue a relationship as-is, once such behavior came to light. This is where Joe Paterno made his mistake.)
And here’s the tricky part: God’s standards are absolute perfection. Yikes. We’re not. In spite of the Olympics, we know we’re not. I can cite two world wars, the crime rate, divorce statistics, drug use, anger, frustration, worry – you see what I mean.
So, what do we do? Eastern religions try to solve the problem the same way evolutionists try to solve the origin problem – by adding in lots and lots of time. OK, we can’t get there this try, but maybe in the next round. Only next time you won’t know anything at all about what you screwed up before. Which would make God a real twirp to keep running you through the proverbial mill with no clue how to fix it. At that rate how long until you reach perfection? Oh, that’s right, eastern religions just promise oblivion, not perfection.
Here’s where the gospel really becomes good news. We don’t have to do it ourselves. God knows we can’t, so He became a perfect man who could, who would, pay the penalty we owe for our disobedience. In spite of the impossibility of our reaching perfection on our own, we can simply receive the grace of God’s perfect goodness; we can merely accept the gift He offers everyone. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”(Acts 16:30-31)
Jesus Christ, who was both perfect, sinless man and perfect God, staggered up a hill called Golgotha carrying a heavy wooden cross on His torn, bleeding back, and allowed Himself to be nailed to that cross where He hung for six hours while the sun darkened its way through a total eclipse and the sins of all the world were heaped onto His shoulders.
This is a done deal; He said finally, “It is finished.” (Matthew 27) No more absolute statement has ever been uttered. He’s already done this for everyone – all that’s required of us is to rely on that work on the cross, not our own, for our entrance into heaven. The overwhelming gratitude that fills those who accept this gift usually produces a profound change in their lives – but that’s not the point. The point is those wise people, once they’ve agreed in their souls that Christ is who He said He was will always for eternity live in joy, spending eternity being everything God ever created them to be in a state of perfection.
The choice is entirely ours, regardless of our background, our previous attitudes, our accumulated sins. We can never earn a perfect ten, not in the eternal Olympics. You see, we must remember that our lives are eternal whether or not we even believe in God, let alone Jesus Christ. Even if we don’t think God exists, He thinks we do and He determines where the life He gave us will be lived. We don’t, regardless of the eastern religious take on things, have the option of oblivion. We exist. We always will be conscious, sentient beings. The question is whether we want to spend that eternity in the joyful presence of God, or separated always, always from all happiness and hope, knowing only pain. It’s up to us. What think you of Christ? You choose.