Wednesday, 28 March 2018

How to ruin your life - and how to have it mended

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised that they were naked... Genesis 3:6-7

When Steve Smith is an old man he will be remembered for different things by different people, depending on the place he had in their lives. But for a very large number of people he will be remembered chiefly for just one thing - and that one thing, I’m afraid, a bad thing.

What am I talking about? Steve Smith? Who’s he?

Until a few days ago he was the captain of the Australia cricket team, and one of the most successful batsmen in the history of the game. But he and a couple of team-mates hatched a plan - a stupid, grubby, pathetic little plan, to be honest - to cheat in a test match. They tampered with the ball in an attempt (which turned out to be useless) to gain an advantage over their opponents.

And... they were found out.

Cue an explosion of outrage. So Smith has had to resign as Australia captain, and his up-to-now glittering career has, for the time being at least, ground to a juddering halt. Now it’s all about shame, guilt, regret, remorse. Even if he is able at some point to successfully resume his career, what he did will never be forgotten.

Am I stretching things to be reminded of Adam and Eve in Eden?

I don’t think so. Set aside questions of how literally we are supposed to take the story - the point is, as one writer puts it, “They exercised their freedom to disobey God’s command, ate the fruit, and wound up standing on the curb outside the garden with their battered suitcases lying beside them on the ground.”

Banished. Outcasts. Like Steve Smith. From unspeakable bliss to unbearable wretchedness. So much ruin! How bitter can you get?

A modern true story and an ancient, God-inspired tale. And what they have in common, of course, is that they are to do with sin. They remind us that our actions have consequences.

It’s the big sins that grip our imaginations, of course. None bigger than what happened that terrible day in Eden.

And sins that catch the headlines. Steve Smith is in good (or should I say bad?) company - think of the politician who embarks on a squalid affair, or the banker who uses inside knowledge to help himself to millions, or the vicar who exercises inappropriate power over vulnerable people. How we love reading about these stories in our papers!

But we’d better be careful. For even the seemingly tiny, unnoticed sins have a serious effect on our lives and upon the kind of people we are becoming. When I was a teenager there was a pop song with a line that has never left me: “One day, you’re gonna discover, one little wrong leads to another...”

Is it too much to say that every human being is the sum total of the things they have done, thought and said?

Choices matter; decisions matter. No wrong-doing is petty, for it contributes in ways we cannot imagine to the formation of our characters.

The question that we need to face is as basic as you could get: Do we take sin seriously? Or do we, perhaps subconsciously, gloss over it with feeble words: “Well, everyone does it”, or, “I can’t help it - it’s just the way I am”, perhaps even “I’m sure God will forgive me.” Anything rather than face reality and resolve to change.

I said earlier that what Steve Smith did will never be forgotten. And as long as there are still people living on this earth I suspect that that is true.

But it isn’t the whole truth. The good news is that God (and ultimately, of course, he is the only one who really matters) loves to forget.

At the heart of the Christian faith is a truth that can be summed up in just three words: God loves sinners. And in his Son Jesus he has made it possible for us to be forgiven and for all our sins, both great and small, to be forgotten, wiped out, obliterated.

This is the meaning of the cross; this is the message of Good Friday. Long before he died on the cross Jesus was described as the sacrificial “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And those words mean exactly what they say.

Yes, Steve Smith did a bad thing. But I find myself feeling rather sorry for him rather than judging him; for haven’t I done many bad things too?

The fact is... I am Adam. I am Eve. And - yes, I am Steve Smith too. (Though not, sadly, when it comes to batting).

Lord God, when I look at the cross I am made aware of how seriously you take sin. Please help me to take it as seriously, and so to appreciate better what Jesus did for me. Amen.

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