This week a news cast made its way across one of my news feeds I subscribe to that left me heartsick, angry, and filled with judgement. I watched in stunned disbelief as a reporter interviewed a middle aged woman. Her niece, a mother of two small toddlers, had left with the woman and left the children unattended in a home. In their brief absence, the home had caught fire and one of the children, a three year old had died. The air was charged with emotion as neighbors excitedly recounted unsuccessful efforts to enter the home upon hearing noises and cries inside. One neighbor recounted lifeless limp bodies being carried out by emergency personnel like small dolls. A grieved fireman leaned against a truck. A mother was inconsolable. I, too, grieved for them. Senseless was the word that came to my mind - but this was not the tipping point for me.
The news reporter continued to interview the aunt and as she continued to speak it became evident she saw nothing wrong with leaving the children unattended and was perplexed how a fire could have broken out. She even went so far as to begin blaming the kids for getting into things unattended. Then, with sudden realization, she stated with anxiety that she really needed to get back into the house to see if her purse was in the debris - it contained her food stamps.
I was outraged by this woman. How depraved, how cold, how inhuman? FOOD STAMPS? Your niece just lost one of her children due to your participatory negligence and all you care about is your food stamps? To have been able to reach through the screen....
My judgement, my outrage, my anger, I suspect, would not be uncommon. In fact, I would challenge that most would argue that to feel otherwise would be inhuman. The phrase "there's a special place in hell...." would almost cross lips as loathing for this individual and their transgressions against defined decency settled upon the average parent. What have we become where life has so little value that food stamps weigh as heavily upon the mind as the light in a small child's eyes?
Here we can further contemplate what has brought us to this point as a society, as a race? Death is all around us. We dispose of the unborn by the millions. Life is cheapened daily in our speech, in our dress, in our choices, our attitudes towards others. The value of our neighbor has dissipated. To love God as we love ourselves is a tall order but to love our neighbor....we can't even see them, we don't even know who they are.
Regardless, this woman's actions above tips the scales - don't they? I mean who among decent people would ever condone behaviors such as hers. Who would ever put children at risk or put forth such a blatant disregard for others over self? She truly deserves punishment, doesn't she? On the scale of "I took some office supplies from work" to "hell-bound in hurry" she bought the express ticket, right?
I find it interesting that only people generate a sliding scale of "sinfulness" and resultant judgement. Jesus never did this. The Bible simply says in Romans 3:23 that "all have sinned and missed the mark". We are so welcoming of the overwhelming grace of God's forgiveness for our own lives and yet so quick to remove it in others'. For them we demand a system of retribution and earned reconciliation. For this woman, how many would have hellfire licking her heels? That's my impulse. What of the half-truth I told today? "But that's something everyone trips up on once and a while..." It's no less damnable than rape, no less a death sentence than theft. It is no less separating me from a Holy and sinless God than pedophilia, murder, pornography, addictions, foul language, gossipping and a whole host of other sins that destroy the mind and body of the offender and others.
My actions are no less repugnant, no less out of character, no less shameful and far removed from my intended creative purpose than that of the above listed woman's. Neither are yours. It is the tragic state of all mankind. This is not to trivialize the tragedy of the above events. Death was the consequence of actions. Calamity ensued and loss and grief followed swiftly.
But such is our state as well as spelled out in Romans 6:23. The price of our sin is death. Eternal calamity, loss and grief are on its heels. In looking at each and every one of us, this is what our Lord saw. This is what broke His heart, moved Him with compassion, and ultimately led Him to the eternal sacrifice of the ages. With the overcast grace of the sacrifice of the Cross and the Resurrection we are each of us able to step out of damnation into life. But in this state, we have no rights whatsoever to cast judgement upon others or the depravity of their actions. Some will be scarcely noticeable. Some will be horrific. God's commands to us are this; Love me with everything in you, love your neighbor as much as yourself. There is no sliding scale of sin ommitting anyone from being a recipient of that love, no judgement seat that any of us get to sit in to determine who is worthy.
As we pursue God and our neighbor we'll become less concerned with figuring out why the world is broken and who should pay for it and the associated judgement that comes with such mental wrestlings. Rather we'll live more purposeful, becoming His hands and feet as we embrace His calling to love. We'll begin to see people as he sees people, see death and suffering as he does. In pursuing Him rather than justice, we'll see a sin-laiden world through the cross. We will find ourselves becoming the outpouring of grace towards others. We'll see others through His eyes.