We owe our very existence to Almighty God. We who have faith and some conception of God tend to take this for granted—even though we do believe it to be true. Others who have dispensed with the notion of God altogether, live in denial of reality; they will, sooner or later, be confronted with the terrifying fact that God exists and that there will be consequences for their unbelief. Then there are those who are disingenuous and play at religious devotion in order to gain something. In each case, people are playing with time because they think that God will play along with them according to their rules of life.
While driving recently I saw a bumper sticker on a car that had this statement: “You laugh because I’m different. I laugh because you’re all the same.” While I cannot be certain what the exact point of this saying is, I think I have a guess.
We all want to be appreciated for our unique personality and interests and dislike being marked out and shunned by others; to be the object of the mockery of people is hurtful. If that were the message of this bumper sticker I might consider getting one and putting it on my vehicle. However, I think that there is a more profoundly disturbing and significant message conveyed in this pithy statement.
Humans have a perennial tendency to compare themselves with one another and then to develop value judgments based upon those comparisons. Everyone has experienced this—whether as the person making the condemning statements about another person’s worth (based upon whatever category is thought to be fitting) or the person on whose head the negative value statements were heaped. I think that the demons must have great fun exploiting this human tendency to turn people against each other and encourage envy, jealously and all different levels of hatred. I suggest that this bumper sticker expresses the deep-seated bitterness (which has turned to contempt) of a person who has been condemned and shamed by others.
To either condemn, mock or ridicule is a direct offence against God (See Proverbs 14:31; 17:5). The Lord spoke categorically that we were not to “judge”, in the sense of condemning others (see Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:37-42). Those who have thrown evil darts with their words do not understand the anger of the Lord or they have become so wicked that they do not care. They are playing with time because they are playing cruel games with the life God gifted them and with others lives—those who bear the image and likeness the Creator.
To counter attack against another person, even if real harm has been done, is not the Lord’s way. To heap upon “you all” the category of “the same” is pejorative and an expression of pride and spiritual blindness. Such persons, no less than the cruel “bullies”, are blind to the fact that we are all in the “same boat” due to sin and death in the world and that there is nothing in this world or in ourselves that can cure our fundamental deficiencies as humans.
To differentiate oneself from others by wealth, clothing, political views, specialized knowledge or skill or one’s preferred sexual proclivities is to base one’s identity on transitory experience. And then to use this categorical differentiation as a rational to hate and treat people with contempt is to walk into further moral confusion and spiritual darkness. All such behavior reveals that those doing this have compared themselves to others and in order to prop up their fragile egos have returned contempt back upon those who treated them contemptuously. This is a remarkable demonstration of a fundamental denial of reality and one more way people attempt to avoid taking responsibility for themselves in human relationships and try to avoid the reality of God.
The Gospel of Matthew records a potent observation and indictment of Jesus upon the people of his time.
“But to what will compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’” (Matthew 11:16-19, NRSV)
The Holy One entered human history in the person of Jesus the Christ. People knew that he had authority and saw the demonstration of that authority in the miraculous acts he did and perceived it in his teaching. John the Baptizer, in a similar way, spoke with authority as he exercised his role of preparing the people to receive their Messiah. The Lord noted how the people of that generation who witnessed the way of life and preaching of John and of himself sought to counter the evident authority of both by complaining that neither of them would play by their rules. They wanted to keep up the pretense of piety and loyalty to the God of Israel but when faced the Holy One himself their true treasure and motives were revealed in how they held the Lord in contempt.
This response is revealing because it demonstrates the core reasons that human beings reject the Lord Jesus and the gospel. Namely, because they love being lawless; to control and manipulate their own lives, other people and even God. The prophets in Scripture name this deadly poison and it effects and characteristic expression frequently. I think perhaps the most incredible manifestation of pride is “lawlessness” as expressed in the affirmation and formation of personal (or communal) identity primarily rooted in transitory things and evil desires (whether pursued individually or communally).
The Kingdom of God, when it is understood, fundamentally challenges our assertions to godhood and calls us out on our tendency to play fast and loose with religion and spirituality and to try in vain to manipulate God and his gift of time. Even for those who want nothing to do with religion, who do not pretend at piety, the challenge is the same. For they have constructed an artificial world in their minds which they think they can control and manipulate in order to get what they value and desire. Both options, the hypocritical piety that masks selfish ambition and evil desires and the open unbelief that exalts and celebrates selfish ambition and the pursuit of self-will, are equally hateful toward God and produce death in those who choose them.
In the end, we will all be unmasked—believers and unbelievers alike. And we will all have to take full responsibility for all the different ways that we chose to resist the Spirit’s voice and neglect the precious gift of our allotted time on earth. But now is the opportunity to turn and heed the word and be truthful before the living God.
For all people there is hope precisely because the Spirit convicts of sin and leads us to repentance. This work is the grace of God. Regarding those who do have some measure of faith in the Lord Jesus, I think that God takes no delight in dealing harshly with his own and wants to us learn to be humble. He will not, however, force our wills; rather he uses extraordinary creativity in orchestrating means of discipline. The apostle Paul, when he was upbraiding the churches in Corinth, made this point. “But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:31-32, NRSV)
Thanks be to God that he is just and merciful! And that even the many years we have spent playing with time can be redeemed. Indeed, the Lord will use our sin and flagrant waste of our lives for the good of others and the glory of God. But we must come to him with genuine faith and humility.