By Rev. Justin Smoot, for Wausau Pilot & Review
Rev. Justin Smoot
Rev. Justin Smoot is one of the pastors at Saint Andrew Lutheran Church in Rib Mountain. He is always on the lookout for how God’s story turns our lives upside down and draws us closer together.
As I was telling my daughter about them and why we had to go to the Monk Botanical Garden for the Luminary Walk with the Girl Scout Troop, I was shirking mine to you. Things happen, life gets away from you and things fall through the cracks.
Honestly, for as faithful as we want to be to those things that we commit to, we fail.
It is a matter of time before we screw up, just like concrete will eventually crack.
For everything that our spirituality brings to us, there is an inherent need to address the inability of humans to maintain perfection. The Laws of the Old Testament that many Christians debate include not just punishments for transgression, but pathways to reconciliation. Early in Scripture, we see God determining that the world needs to be cleansed in the Flood. This is a drastic measure that we see as overkill but is truly a story of God realizing that humanity needs something new because the end result is that God decides that we will not be killed for our sin.
Like I will not be killed for missing a publishing deadline.
Other punishments will come, but there is a second chance! There is grace!
When you consider other religions, too, each has a way to respond to the imperfections of humanity. Some are a type of reciprocal ethic. Like Hinduism’s Karmic Cycle, or Wicca’s Rule of Three. Karma is a cosmic currency which leads to rebirth in better or worse circumstances. Whenever the karma, good or bad, is all spent, we are reborn as human and have another chance to earn karma. The Rule of Three is the understanding that whatever we put into the world comes back to us in a three-fold manner. This means that we have a great incentive to do good that we may receive good. We are encouraged, through a reciprocal framework, to do more good than bad and tip the scales of the universe in our favor. The punishments for failure are our own.
I guess that is one thing that many who would make a strawman of Christianity, and faith in general, want to do; paint the divine as an arbitrary legislator, judge, and executioner. When Christians, and other people of faith, emphasize the Law of God as inviolate, supreme, and ultimate, it appears that way. Rules without explanation. Punishment without mercy. No exceptions.
Honestly, my own tradition does not dispute the starkness of that image. The same way we do not deny our own mortality, we accept our complete and utter failure to keep the law, especially the righteousness of God’s judgement for our failure. However, we understand that this is not the end, it was never intended to be our end, nor God’s final say in the matter. God’s final say in the matter of our failure and inability to keep the Law of God is the Empty Tomb.
The ultimate second chance, not that Christ needed it, but we definitely do!
With this we do not suffer under a capricious and arbitrary God, nor are we at the mercy of a reciprocal ethic where we suffer what we deserve. Instead, we can see how a God of second chances wants us to live. We see the joy of commitments kept, and the joy of forgiveness and reconciliation when they are not. We find satisfaction in the messy work of life, finding ways to gather and serve and be served in community, founded upon the grace of second chances that shape our lives and encourage us to do better.
We make them to each other, but God makes them to us first – faithfully.
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