Saturday, 11 August 2012

Theology and the Hat Rack

Once upon a time, there was a man who was notorious for losing hats. It seemed that, no matter what he did, he always ended up losing his hat, and no matter how hard he tried, he could never seem to remember where he left them.

One day, as he was telling a friend about his hat-woes, his friend made a rather peculiar suggestion. His friend said, “Why don’t you go to church on Sunday?”

“Go to church?” asked the other man with a bewildered look on his face. “How will that solve my problem of forgetting where I keep leaving my hats?”

“Well that’s simple,” replied the man’s friend. “In the back of the church, above the coat racks, there are all sorts of hats. I’m sure you can find a suitable hat to replace the one that you just lost.

The scheme appealed to the man, and so on the very next Sunday, the man found himself in a place that he hadn’t been for a very long time; he found himself at church.

Rather than just grab a hat and run, the man decided that, since he was at church anyway, he might as well sit down and see for himself what this church-thing was all about. So he went into the sanctuary and sat down.

After the service the man joined in at the pastoral receiving line to greet the pastor and shake his hand. When his turn came, he introduced himself to the pastor and said, “Pastor, today you kept me from sinning.”

“Oh,” said the pastor with a somewhat confused look on his face. “How did I do that?

“Well,” said the man, “I came here today with the express purpose of stealing a hat. You see, I have this strange problem of always losing mine. But when I heard you preach about the evils of adultery, I suddenly remembered where I keep leaving my hats.”
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My father was always a great storyteller, and if memory serves me correct, the preceding was one of his stories. Was it original to him? I have no idea, but one thing is for sure, to this day, dad is known for his stories and one-liners. Maybe that’s where my brothers and I get our sense of humor from. Thanks, Dad J

Though funny, the story also has a more serious side. It is one that we don’t seem to talk about much anymore. Why? Maybe it is because too many of us have gone through it and it seems to have become an accepted norm, even in the church. What am I talking about? I’m talking about “adultery.”

Have I offended you yet by suggesting that many church-goers are adulterers? Before you label me a heretic, notice what Jesus said on the subject. He said, 
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32; NIV).
Then, as if to reinforce the seriousness of this, Jesus says it again. He says,
“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9; NIV).
Likewise, God said through the prophet Malachi,
“I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16).
Now if what they tell us is true, that the church has a higher divorce rate than the world (greater than 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce), and except for those cases where the reason for the divorce is marital unfaithfulness by one member of the union, and if we take Jesus’ words literally, it then logically follows that at least half of married (or formally married) Christians today, are adulterers. What are we going to do with that?

Based on the frequency of divorce today for any and every reason, apparently we do not share God’s sentiment on the subject. Or am I missing something here? But wait, it gets worse. (Are you ready to lynch this author for bringing up this subject?). Jesus also said,
“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28; NIV).
Oh, oh. Busted! I guess that makes me an adulterer too. Yep, I have looked at women the wrong way too before. God forgive me. The world often says, “Looking is free,” but is it really? The world often says, “It’s OK to look at the menu, but you have to eat at home,” but does that cheesy line really line up with what Jesus taught? Like many other things in life, it’s not always about the literal action or word; often even the spirit of the action or word is just as damning.
So what is the moral of this divorce and adultery stuff?
Before we beat ourselves up too much, the story doesn’t end there. Jesus still shows his love towards us adulterers, as seen through his parable of the woman who was actually caught in the very act of adultery. Poor thing, talk about embarrassing! You can read about it beginning in John 8:3. In the end, after all the accusations of the religious nut-cases who were seething for a capital punishment verdict, Jesus simply says,
“If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7)
From Facebook. Original source unknown
The way I paraphrase this is, we all have skeletons in our closets and we would do well to remember that the next time we come across a little too judgmental about the “sins” that we perceive in the lives of others. It is really quite sad, actually, that some of the most loving and forgiving people I know are actually non-Christians. Conversely, despite all the rhetoric of love and forgiveness preached by the church, some of the most unloving and unforgiving people I know are professing Christians.

Philip Yancey was right when he reportedly said, “Christians get very angry with other Christians who sin differently than they do.” Likewise CS Lewis once said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” In his great book ‘Revise Us Again,’ Frank Viola wrote, “One can talk a great deal about Jesus Christ, and even about the need for knowing him, and yet betray him by one’s actions and attitudes toward those who are his.” That, my friends, is the bottom line! Have we, perhaps ironically, betrayed the one we call our Lord? Sadly, sometimes I think we have. God forgive us.

Yes, I’m sure you’re quite right; God doesn’t like some of those many things that people do and embrace today. Homosexuality was not a part of God’s plan for mankind. I’m sure His heart does ache with every child that is aborted. Murder is wrong, and so is lying and cheating and fornication and adultery and divorce and, and, and …

So, lest we get too smug with ourselves and think that we are somehow better than those people over there, we would do well to remember that sin is sin. One is not somehow better than the next. Our s**t stinks just as bad as theirs. We have all fallen short (Romans 3: 9-12), and were it not for Jesus, we would all be hopelessly lost.

So the next time you or I find ourselves tempted to point fingers, maybe we should consider an embrace of love and forgiveness instead. Maybe we should think about something else that Jesus also said:
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6: 14-15).
Hmm, I hate to think of it this way, but that almost sounds conditional, doesn’t it? So, from one adulterer to another, how’s that for ending on a controversial note?

Oh, and by the way, while you were out, your “friend” called and asked if you will come by later and pick up your hats. 

Photo Credit (cowboy hat): Flickr Creative Commons

4 comments:

  1. Very good! The way I heard it it was the minister who lost his bicycle. As he was preaching on the commandments, when he got to 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' he remembered where he'd left his bike!

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    1. Rissa,

      I haven't heard that one, but it works too. Either way, the message remains the same.

      Thanks for sharing :)

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  2. Another great post.

    It seems important to note that after Christ defended the woman caught in the act of adultery, he admonished her to "go and sin no more".

    Some people take His defence as a carte blanche, after all, none are without sin.

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    1. Good observation. The admonishment still applies to us today.

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