We like justice. We like rules. We like to draw lines between things.
One place on TVTropes.org that I like to tool around in is the Morality section, especially those parts pertaining to heroes and villains. It’s got all kinds of classifications. Hero, antihero, villain, antivillain, chaotic good, lawful evil, true neutral, incorruptible pure pureness, and Complete Monster, just to name a few. And there’s this one fascinating page called Even Evil Has Standards. It lists all those badguys, from stories of every kind, who had a personal threshold which they would not cross. In each case, for some reason or other, there came a moment in the plot where someone did something – or even suggested doing something, which the badguy just could not take. There was a standard that a villain could not cross, that he could not conscience or wave away. The reasons are myriad, but they all lead to the same thing: people, however villainous have standards. They have things that they will not do, and which they will stop – or punish – if someone else does them.
Because it’s written down deep in us that there should be laws, that actions have consequences. And that if the natural consequences are not swift enough, we should bring them about ourselves – or someone should. Government, law enforcement, the community; doesn’t matter who, in the end. We may not agree on what is good and what is evil, what should be punished and what shouldn’t, but we can all agree that there is right, and there is wrong, and they should be treated accordingly.
So it pretty much follows that religion gets the same idea. (Real quick: religion does not equal faith/belief. Religion is what we do about faith/belief.)
Again, it makes sense. Congregations are made up of people, and people are not perfect. My ancestors practiced shunning. Excommunication is another form. My church has rules for its elders, and an elder who violates one is not going to stay an elder. We can debate how these judgements are used, but they’re there for a reason. When there is harm, when there is breach of trust, when there is sin, we need rules. And we need punishment.
But we go too far. We draw the lines – good, right lines to begin with – and we draw them too long, heading off into places where they don’t go. We punish too long. We condemn too quickly. And we do it to ourselves. We shut people out and don’t let them ever come back. We cordon people off, hide them away. We shut ourselves off, beat ourselves down, list the things we have done wrong, all the ways in which we don’t measure up, and find ourselves so wanting that we hide. We pray for bolts of lightning, we wonder how many good things we have to do to set the score right. We keep a running tally in our minds of good and evil, and hope that in the end they tip towards good. Those of us who are honest, those of us who see ourselves clearly, know every flaw, every shortcoming, every wrong word and deed.
I, having an excellent memory, do this a lot.
It all comes down to this: we want to know what we can do to get back in God’s (the Universe’s, anybody’s) good graces. We want to know what will resecure our place, will put us back on the “good” side. We have our standards, and we’ve found that we fall short of them. How can we pay what we owe? How can we balance the books? What can we do to make ourselves good again?
I don’t know what other faiths say. I don’t know if they have sins that can’t be forgiven, or mindsets from which there is no redemption. Christianity does not. And it is my conviction that not only is there no place where we can stand wherein we cannot be saved, but that having once been saved, we cannot be unsaved.
Tomorrow’s Easter. We Christians will be singing and telling each other about the death and resurrection of the Messiah. It’s too easy to see a crucifix or a video or read the lyrics of a song and think about how it was just one man who died on that cross, who paid for the sins of the world. Just one guy. Who lived once, and died once. Who came back to life, just once. Two thousand years ago, no less. And somewhere in the dark corners of the mind, we’re thinking, there’s six billion of us. More, even if you don’t count everyone who’s gone before. How many sins do we commit? How many unforgivables? What are all the awful things we read about in the news, the horrors and terrors we commit against each other daily? There’s genocide and abuse and apathy and all kinds of stuff. One guy died. The math doesn’t work.
Until you turn the “one” into “infinity”.
The God of heaven died. The Alpha and Omega was crucified. The One who was from before time and who will be after it, who is present throughout the known universe has spilled his blood. How much more can we want? It’s we who fail to measure up. It’s we who fall short. It’s we who are using the wrong math altogether. And misinterpreting the situation completely.
It’s not about numbers, about tallies and adding up. It’s not about ledgers and books. It’s a state of being. The door has been kicked down. The curtain’s been torn in two. The light has been lit. The contract has been signed. The claim has been staked. The vow has been said. And it has been written in blood.
We have rules, and we have consequences. The consequence of Easter is this: just as there is nothing I can do to make God hate me, there is nothing I can do to escape his grace. I got a long way to go – the farther I get, the more I realize there is left to do – but this one thing does not change: no matter what I do, I am saved.