How rare to hear those words – and how difficult to say them.
Even tougher: “I have sinned.”
A recent conversation with Natanael*, my not-yet-believing friend, ranged over a number of topics:
the Las Vegas mass shootings (what was the killer’s motivation?)
Harvey Weinstein’s plummet from the Hollywood pantheon
Natanael’s experience in Tel Aviv seeing men in religious garb visiting brothels after Shabbat
My non-religious Jewish friend’s world view is like that of most Gentiles with whom I speak. Natanael is disturbed by “the slaughter of innocents” attending an outdoor concert. But killing babies in the womb is a woman’s right. Mr. Weinstein’s predatory behavior is criminal. But there’s nothing wrong with pornographic movies portraying those exact activities.
It’s easy to point out the hypocrisy in people who don’t practice what they preach. But it’s much easier to rationalize, justify, ignore, or cover up our own “mistakes.” (Something about a “log in my own eye” comes to mind.)
“Have you noticed,” I asked my friend, “that nobody wants to use the ‘sin’ word anymore? We have no problem talking about getting rid of guilt feelings. But how do we get rid of guilt?”
I commended Natanael for his expressed desire to “do the right thing,” but questioned how he knows what is right and what is wrong.
“Society’s norms,” he began. Then, perhaps because of our previous discussions, “and God, I suppose?”
I responded that culture shapes our thinking, for sure. What we are taught and experience becomes the standard of measurement. We want the approval of those around us. And when societies make and enforce laws, we want to stay out of jail.
But often culture, tradition and even legal systems depart from the truth of Scripture. God is clear: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.” And, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but it ends in death.”
Being considered a hypocrite or outcast by society is one thing; being convicted as a criminal in a human court is another.
And it’s one thing to feel guilty about doing something we consider a mistake. Being eternally condemned as a sinner before our Righteous Judge is of an entirely different magnitude.
Harvey Weinstein is doing what society approves of when we mess up. He’s going to therapy for his addictions. Perhaps, like Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, he can get back into the good graces of Hollywood. But what about his standing before the Holy One of Israel?
I recounted to Natanael a conversation I’d had with a young Israeli. After getting acquainted a bit we switched to matters of substance. “So, what do you do with your sin?” I asked directly.
Shai* reacted like I’d hit him with a taser. “Zoht ha shayelah!” (“That is the question!”), he responded.
For both Shai and Natanael, the antidote offered for the sin that poisons our souls and separates us from a holy God was the same: faith in the finished atoning work of Messiah Yeshua, the sinless Son of God who died in our place to fully pay our deserved penalty.
I told Natanael Jesus’ story of the “God be merciful to me a sinner” tax collector and the “I thank God I am not as other men” self-righteous religious man in the Temple. And of King David’s clear confession, “Against You and You alone have I sinned.”
“I was wrong. I am a sinner,” is the first step of admitting our need. But acknowledging the disease is futile without taking the cure.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, and you will be saved.”