One of the great literary turns in scripture is found in Romans chapter 1 and chapter 2. In Romans 1 Paul describes the consequences of sin, using the word “they” or forms of that word, nearly 30 times referring to sinners. But in chapter 2 Paul begins speaking of sinners in the second person saying, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” I believe Paul did this to deliberately set up his Roman audience so they would realize and acknowledge the detestable nature of sin and it’s consequences before he told them they were the very sinners about which he was talking.
This is not the first time in Scripture, however, where a literary turn like this has been used. Remember, if you will, the confrontation between David and Nathan in II Samuel 12. Nathan told David of a rich man who had taken a poor man’s only lamb and slaughtered it for dinner, to which David’s indignation arose as he said, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die!” I imagine Nathan responding with equal vigor as he tells David, “You are the man!” After a long explanation and the passing of judgment, David humbled himself and said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” The literary turn once again takes the captive audience by surprise, exposing their sin and, most likely, their hypocrisy.
I fell for this turn today as I was reading Psalm 36. The first four verses tell of how the wicked person does not fear the lord but flatters himself. Their eyes, enlightened by their own pride, can not see beyond themselves to acknowledge the faithfulness, righteousness, justice, and loving-kindness of the Lord filling the universe. They live in darkness unable to see the goodness of the Lord by the light of the Lord. It’s quite a sad state to be blinded by your own ignorance, isn’t it? It must be awful to be so in love with one’s self that you can’t look beyond the circle of your own pride and arrogance.
It was at this point I thought about the many different wicked people in the news today. There are politicians who seemingly believe themselves to be above the law: their arrogance and wickedness growing stronger by the day. There are athletes disregarding the legalities of the courts, not to mention moral laws, because their wealth and privilege allows them to get away with it. There are reporters and entertainers who do not seem to care one bit about the truth, but only that which can promote their career.
And it isn’t just on the national level that these wicked people live, I see them every day: drivers with no regard for the law; coaches who unscrupulously recruit players; workers stealing petty supplies from their company; people in restaurants treating waitresses and waiters with disrespect; shop owners choosing to discriminate based on their own sense of right and wrong; the list continues. So many wicked people doing so many wicked things.
But then it struck me that there is no difference between them and I. I must realize when I am repulsed by the words and actions of someone on the national stage, I have said or done things of equal disgust. When I cast judgment on the reckless drivers speeding about the countryside, I must acknowledge I have done the same, and worse. And when my ire has risen to the point where I wish the thieves, the rude, the bigot, the racist, and others would be finally shamed and trampled under the strong foot of justice, I must humbly accept that I have been each of those people.
I think this is why my eyes so often cannot pierce the shadow made by my own flickering arrogant candle to behold the bright realm of the Lord’s goodness: it is because I am too enamored with myself to realize how bad I really am. I think Psalm 36 tells us there is one who came to bring sight to the blind and by his light tat we are able to see; by his goodness, we are changed; and by following him will be redeemed and never be put to shame.
Sadly, however, even as I know all of this is true, I still find myself drawn into the flame of my own wickedness, thinking of others as the problem. I wonder when God will take care of them, not realizing as Pogo did so many years ago, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”