Little Sins

One day K was like any other 7 year old and the next day he was a thief. Like most boys his age, his penchant for sweet things commonly led to a host of foolish decisions that characterize young men. He was not old enough for them to amount to serious consequence but neither were they profitable for his growth and maturity. As often as other children would eat at the cafeteria, he would spend his money on sour straps, ice cream, sour jawbreakers and the like. You could say it was a precursor to obsession. To him, there was nothing quite like the first taste of sugar. From the moment it hit his tongue, his mood would light up. As the sensation trickled down the back of his throat, he would come away from his treat with eyes afresh and his brain acutely attuned to his surroundings. To his teachers it was clear that such a habit could only end in 2 ways: a maturing and refining of his appetite and subsequent renouncement of his former tastes, or a poverty of health from the endless cycles of consumption and withdrawal that still haunted older folk.

So it was no surprise that a new packet of mints that had recently been released to the market caught his attention in the middle of a supermarket this particular afternoon while shopping with his mom. They had started off the shopping trip like any other, with mom buying the necessary household items first before proceeding to dad’s more ridiculous and then K’s sister’s even more absurd demands. After multiple denials and negotiations with him and his sister, they approached the line at the counter. A transparent turquoise box winked at him from out of the corner of his eye. He was transfixed. Turning to it, he noticed that it had a sign reading, ‘Tic Tacs’, ‘new’ and ‘improved’ then other random letters that he could recognize but not quite string it into words that meant something. His hand extended out from him, picking up speed as it went along and then sure of its destination, snatched the box into his fist. Then like a man in shock of the treasure he’d found, presented it towards mom. ‘Mom can we buy?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why? I want it.’ ‘Because we don’t need it.’ ‘I need it!’ K’s mom began to unload her groceries. The distant look on her face was all he needed to know that his request was over before it had begun. This was all too much for him. ‘Noooooooooo!’ And then he stopped himself. This had happened to him too many times to know it never ended well. He stared at his mom as a well of hatred shot up and overflowed in him, darkening his mind and causing new and fresh thoughts to arise. As he swallowed and attempted to suppress such overwhelming emotion, a new impulse now impressed itself upon his mind. He felt at peace, though quite numb toward his mother, and stopped glaring at her. His face contorted itself then relaxed, relieved from the birth giving of such emotion. He unclenched his fist which were beginning to shake from holding the box of candy so tightly. He hadn’t even been aware that he’d been doing that. ‘Okay.’ He half smiled, as though reluctantly obeying although he never wanted to obey more. It was too suspicious otherwise, and what was needed here and now were not tantrums but cunning. He placed the box of Tic Tacs back onto the shelf. His mother was surprised, taken aback at the fact that the conflict was now over before it had begun. Then the immediate demands of the grocery trip set upon her and wasting no time she returned to unpacking the supplies onto the cashier’s table. In her heart she attributed its resolution to what she most hoped for – K’s moral growth as a result of her careful parenting.

K quietly returned his attention to what he and his sister were doing and began to help his mom by unloading more of the groceries onto the table. Once he was sure that she had directed her focus elsewhere, he grabbed as many of his groceries that she’d approved of; cereal boxes, yogurt, canned fruit, hot chocolate, and chucked them onto the conveyor belt with arms outstretched. The cereal box toppled over onto the floor just as he intended without breaking the packaging, enough for his mom to notice what he was doing but without attracting undue attention for a prolonged period. ‘Oops!’ He chirped. He shrugged his shoulders. He proceeded to pick up the cereal box with his back towards his sister and his mom now lifting paper bags back into the shopping cart. As he was straightening up with the box in one hand, he swiped the box of Tic Tacs without looking at them as though he had lost control of his other hand and then placed the two hands together on top of the cereal box, covering one another. Once he’d placed the cereal box on top of the groceries both hands were brought together, until approaching his pockets they drifted apart and then stuck, one in each pocket, where they nested.

It seemed like the lights in the store suddenly got brighter. K’s face heated up and he could even feel the reddening around the ears that he experienced when speaking in front of the class. He attempted to stand up straighter to relieve his flushed face but found he couldn’t. It was as though the weight of the store had suddenly come crashing down on his young tender back. All his thoughts were now towards the little package in his pockets and ensuring its safety. The voices of his mother and sister seemed far off. The line moved along and they headed towards the invisible twin pillars which could beep and detect if you had stolen anything. Just like magic. Like a dream, he followed his mom, gliding along the floor. Here came the first test. The two pillars came up towards his face, imposing its presence over him and then just like that vanished and he was through. He exhaled a sigh of relief. ‘What’s wrong? Are you tired of shopping?’ K’s mother squinted at him. ‘No! No! Nah. I’m fine. Fine. I mean tired. Just tired. Let’s go home.’ ‘Okay. Come along now you two.’ His sister skipped behind him and ran up to take hold of her mother’s hand. K lagged behind so that he could feel the box of Tic Tacs still in his pockets. It would be his little secret. It was then that as they were leaving the supermarket section and turning towards the direction of the parking lot that he caught sight of the security guard. A dark skinned and tall man, he stood upright facing the exit of the store. But K could swear that he was being watched out of the corner of his eye. He shoved his hand down the pocket more. To anyone else the security guard might as well have been staring at the wall. Yet K couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched. He shrugged. Surely if he had known he’d have come up to them by now. Nevertheless as they walked past him, he made sure to walk on the right of his mother and sister, using their bodies as shields from the penetrating gaze of this security guard. Time froze as they passed him. The shopping mall din became a quiet hush. If K had uttered a word he was sure he would have heard him. They passed one another in total silence. Then, nothing. As soon as they reached the parking lot, it was sunny again. The gentle vroom vroom of cars starting up reached his ears. And everything returned to the way it was. He heaved a sigh of relief, almost gasping for air. He was free. And yet as he jumped into the car, cutting in front of his sister and laughing, he felt like a piece of lead still remained in the square of his back like a backpack worn too long.

K did not remember how the rest of the afternoon passed, simply that it was a blur, liked a heated day of summer. The next thing he knew was that he and has family were on the rooftop of a car park, walking towards the elevators in order to reach the movie theater for dinner and a film. It was then that he experienced those first irresistible pangs, the ones people get when seeing a ‘do not touch’ sign or when standing over a cliff’s edge. As he walked by his mother’s side, never had he had more of an urge to speak, to confess his heinous crime and to attest to the world of his wicked misdeed! With every step his heart pounded and ached. With every sentence that passed in conversation with his mother, he would feel the sweat build up in his hands. His lips trembled. His mouth motioning to form ‘Today I…’ The final barrier and only solace was the strength of his stubborn 7 year old will. As they waited for the elevator he would fight to suppress it, swallowing and distracting himself with the very same candy that he stole. And offering it to the parents and sister he would be complimented for his generosity to her today. How cunning. And how wretched he was. The elevator still did not come. It seemed to like the 1st floor too much. The warm orange 1 shone above the elevator for what felt like an eternity. Would it ever come? Would it get here in time before K’s soul could hold back no longer or would he be able to crawl into the comfort of his favorite theater in time, suppressing all thought for the time being? The elevator light hit 2 and K could finally take it no longer. ‘I did it!!!’ I did it. I did it. It was me.’

K’s mother did not think much of that fateful night. Nor had she remembered it now in her mid age. But K had not forgotten it even after 20 years. The memory of that night stood out clear to him as though viewed from a film camera. He could recall it at a moment’s notice if he chose to. In every other family member’s memory it had long since receded into the category of vague impressions like food one has tasted before or a trip they had once taken overseas. There was no reason to have remembered that night. There had been no consequences, rather he had even been commended for his honesty. He was not sure which one was worse, the guilt of his memory that could not fade or the praise of his parents for precisely what he knew was wrong. Of course they had simply dismissed it as a childish thing that he would grow out of soon. And so he did. In his mind however he could never quite get the stare of the security guard out of it.

It was late one night when K was awake reading as was his custom. His son lay in his bed, and his wife was asleep next to him. And this is when they came. It began with a soft knock on the door. K thinking it was simply the house settling, lay content and continued to read, his eyes crawling to and fro over the lines of each word against his bedside. It was nice to enjoy the stillness of the night. Rap rap rap. Again came the knock. This time louder, just enough to produce the sound of wood on wood so that it could not be mistaken. Now K was puzzled. Who could that be? Believing it to be one of his neighbors, he slid off the bed and into his slippers. Grabbing his coat from a hanger he tip toed over to the entrance of his house and pried the door slightly open. In any event such an action would have been careless but it was a safe neighborhood after all. “We are here for Mr. K.” “I’m sorry I don’t believe we’ve met before, there must be a mistake.” “He does not make mistakes.” In the door way stood 2 men against the cold night air. They wore long dark over coats and must have been dark skinned for he could barely make out their faces. Being hidden under two hoods did not help either. He felt the eeriness behind their tone of voice and so did not dare to draw the door open any more. “Please step out for a moment Mr K.” This was a fairly reasonable request. The street lamps were on and the lights in the houses around his cul de sac were still on. Witnesses. Making sure he still had keys, he locked the door from the inside and closed it behind him. “All right everyone, I’m out. What’s so important that you need to talk me like this? It’s 1 am for goodness sakes.” One of the men murmured, “it’s a matter of life and death sir.” “Life and death? Please. I can’t even see your faces. How do you expect one to take you two seriously.” They stepped to the side allowing the light of the street lamp nearby to illuminate their faces. It was the sight of one that caused a chill through K’s bones. Suddenly the air seemed freezing and he wasn’t sure if he could feel his feet any longer. Underneath one of the hoods lay the same unmistakable face. It was the dark security guard from his childhood. He did not doubt it for a second. In fact it was almost as though his own self had been waiting for such a day to happen. In that moment he knew that he must go with them. “Please come with us Mr K.” “Why?” “You know why. You have always known why. Come. You still ask a lot of questions. Not much has changed in 20 years has it?” K hesitated. Not a moment too soon, he felt their arms around his. Not dragging, but guiding him down the steps and onto the curb. He felt his legs numbly obeying him, following their arms one step at a time. He knew that there was no point in struggling. They passed through the street, up the road and took a left turn onto the main road, which was illuminated by one lamp. There were no cars in sight. As they walked along the road they passed lit houses on one side and trees on the other. Every now and then, an owl’s hoot could be heard. K thought it was funny how none of the lit windows ever had anyone in them. After winding through the trees on one side of the road they finally stopped at a clearing no bigger than a soccer field. Despite having lived in the area for 10 years he had never been here. A sign into the clearing read “The Potter’s Field.” The two hooded men looked around as though scanning for something. Having located it at last, they brought K over to the far side of the field where a great ditch had been dug. By now K knew that there was no leaving. To deal with the situation he resorted to his dry humor like he always did. “You know security guards are meant to return the culprit to the store and recover the items that are lost.” The less familiar one chuckled. “I like him.” “By nature the job of guards are to keep people out. It is the person in which crime is present,” replied the security guard from the mall. Swinging K up by his arms, they lay him down softly in the ditch. From their coats they procured two shovels and begin to pile the dirt back from where it came. They dug, one shovel in sync with the other, not breaking a sweat or changing their breathing. As dirt began to pile up on K’s feet, he remarked, “but everyone has done something small like that in their life!” One of them nodded, the other as though speaking for him replied, ”We come for everyone eventually. But when is not up to us.” “Then who is it up to?” They shrugged. “The owner. We simply come when he sends for us.” Finally, K’s entire body was covered. Only his eyes remained, as though treading water. It was just long enough to see one of the guards procure a box of Tic Tacs. He just made out the letters “new and improved.” He walked over past K’s head and placed it just past him, in front of a large flat stone. As his vision darkened and his eyes began to see red around them, the guards slunk away, leaving nothing in the field except the wind and the rustle of leaves. On the flat stone over K’s grave behind the Tic Tacs, an engraving with ragged edges worn by age reads “awaiting the return of its rightful owner.”

Being A Good Person Cannot Make Up For The Wrong We Do: Why I love that God needed to become a man

The weird habit all humans have

We just can’t help ourselves. Like impulsive children, we just can’t help feeling bad whenever we do something wrong. And we can’t stop trying to make up for it. And if we find that we can’t? Well despair sets in like quick cement, our guilty conscience eating away at us like termites underneath timbers. We have a deeply personal knowledge of wrongs, more than just an intellectual assent. When we see wrongs committed against us or others, our hearts cry out for reparation. That’s part of what makes us human. And the reason why it’s a part of being human is because God created humans to be his image, including his justice.

Our weird habit is evidence of a damaged product

Just as every object was created with a purpose, as humans, we were made in the image of God, designed to honor God by obeying and enjoying him forever. But our conscience assures us we have fallen way short of that. We are prone to do what’s wrong, especially when we’re told we can’t do something. The very thought of being prohibited from something itches away at us. Our moral compasses are broken and we’re scrambling around like ants trying to fix it. So when we act selfishly, if we recognize it, we’ll apologize and promise to do better next time, hoping that’ll resolve our guilt. Unfortunately our consciences don’t seem to work that way. Like a bank account, each wrong committed is a withdrawal on our balance, gradually accumulating more and more debt in our account as we age. It is no wonder that old men are some of the most regretful people in the world.

Being good is overrated

But God is a person of infinite beauty and value. Therefore obeying and enjoying him is the highest good. That means every transgression is a cosmic crime of eternal and infinite proportion. It is like choosing to eat your own feces over lobster. If God says not to eat something, we ought not to eat it even at the cost of all the universe and multiple universes more. The penalty for such a crime then is something greater than the whole amount of our obligations. The penalty requires a payment of infinite value because it has been committed against an infinite being. How then can being good absolve our guilt when it is merely being what we were made to be? It seems that the history of ethics has vastly overrated its credit value.

The solution: a bail out by God

Religions are implicitly aware of this, which is why the story of the world’s religions is one in which the debt is attempted to be remedied since they all know the accounts will have to be settled one day. The problem is that with the exception of Christianity, religions rituals, superstitions and self-help practices have worked only to temporarily suppress our guilt. Let’s not kid ourselves. Our selfishness is an enormous crime and if not for God’s restraints, would be hell on earth. No, the only thing that would make reparation for a life lived in defiance of its infinitely valuable giver, is an eternal and infinitely more valuable life than any human being could offer.

If our hope is in ourselves, our will to power, or our ability to create our own meaning with our choices, then we are of all people the most to be pitied. Living the good life by ourselves is the feeble attempt of a toddler to beat his dad in basketball. The dam of our disappointments and guilt will eventually break its banks and crush us with the weight of its condemnation when we realize we cannot live the life we so desperately want to. The end of living for one’s self is despair not freedom. And the end of despair is death, not life.

Only God can give himself something that is more valuable than the whole universe. And there is nothing that is more valuable than all existence but himself. But it is man who owes the debt. So God the author of life, entered life himself as a character – the man Jesus, so that he might pay man’s debt with his own life. It was life that had existed from eternity. And it was life that was infinitely more valuable than anything else. It was a life through whom, to whom and for whom, all things were made. Only the life and death of Jesus could remedy our guilt because only as a human could he represent us, and only as God could his life be of infinite worth. And because he was of infinite worth, his payment is sufficient for every person who desires to have their guilt washed, their conscience cleansed and their life restored – as his eternal image. This is why I love that God had to become man.

Why Hell Must Exist

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Matt 5:21-23

When was the last time you thought about hell? If you’re like me it’s probably been awhile. That’s not a surprise because sometime around the latter half of the 20th century, hell dropped out of our culture’s vocabulary. I’m not sure how it happened or exactly when, but I do remember hell being a common phrase as a kid and then it suddenly just vanished. It wasn’t that it was there one day and then gone the next; it was as if adults had ever heard of such a concept. Instead of a common belief around which morality and life was oriented, it became a dirty word associated with fringe groups. Like those Westboro Baptist guys. It wasn’t a teaching you or your church wanted to be known for. Sure people nowadays may believe in a hell, but this concept is vague and it isn’t quite sure who makes it or who doesn’t. What is certain is that you don’t and no one you’re related to don’t. Not to mention most people. Really, the only people who would deserve hell would probably be Hitler…and that’s about it.

The Christian View of Hell

This places modern Christians in an awkward position since they have always believed in a literal heaven and hell from the time of the apostles. More than that, Christians believe that anyone who doesn’t repent and turn to a man named Jesus will go to hell, separated from any good relationship with God and in the full presence of his wrath. In tolerant times like ours, the Christian belief of heaven and hell is like jumping into a frozen pool, a shock to our system of values. This makes it almost incomprehensible and because of that it’s easy for such views to be socially rejected because of its perceived ‘unfairness’.

Can God really condemn people for a lack of belief? What about the ‘good atheist’? What about Gandhi? More importantly what about the everyday people we know and love like grandma who isn’t a Christian but is one of the most kind hearted people you’ll ever meet? If it’s an outrage when a good man gets the same sentence as a wicked one, how much more when God does so with humans. But if you pause to reflect on the nature of justice, you realize that for a perfect God to be just, hell must necessarily exist. More than that, hell must include people just like you and me.

Evil Isn’t Out There, It’s In Here

While technology like social media has readily opened up the world to us in the 21st century, being more connected to other human beings also means being more open to seeing the injustice and evil that exists in this world. When we see a news report of a school shooting, or a woman who had acid thrown on her face for leaving Islam, or that Syria has attacked its own citizens with chlorine gas, our heart cries out for justice.

But if we want the world to be a better place, wanting injustice to be remedied is only the first step. The second one is to realize that all of the evil we see in others is the same that’s present in ourselves. The scariest thing about the Holocaust, were that its soldiers, its prison guards, and its secret services were just everyday German citizens. They weren’t born monsters, they were human and this was demonstrated in the shock of one Jewish man who attended his perpetrator’s trial. As he looked into his eyes, he saw his humanity and he realized that the two were the same.

We are each capable of infinite evil. Like cancerous cells, they lie dormant within us, awaiting their opportunity to entice our souls. So if we want God to eliminate evil and rectify injustice, we must accept that a perfect God cannot tolerate the least bit of evil in the universe. He must deal with all of it and not just some out there in others. And that includes even the judgment of people like you and me who probably may not ever commit a major crime in our lives, but nonetheless harbor the very same dark desires that when fed, lead to widespread suffering.

Why Only Those Who Believe In Jesus Escape Hell

The Christian doesn’t believe that people go to hell because of their lack of belief in Jesus anymore than we believe that lifelines cause the death of people who drown. No, people drown because they asphyxiate underwater but the lifeline was the only thing that could’ve saved them. So too with Jesus. In any court case, justice demands payment. But in the courts of God, the cost of a crime against an eternally perfect being is more than any man can bear. Unless a perfect substitute exists to bear the guilt of the evil that lies within us, all we’re left with is despair – despair that despite our best efforts to scrub off the evil around us, we can never touch the evil within us and despair because we ultimately know that it will never measure up under the eyes of God. But this is the beauty of Jesus:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Is. 53:5