REPENT YOU STUPID SINNER!

Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:20)

I have to be honest and confess that I don’t really care about your eternal destiny much, except in the most theoretical sense and only begrudgingly at that. The truth is that I would rather not have your dumb choices affect my own personal life trajectory. I hate being waylaid by the selfish or idiotic actions of others. That’s why I hate crowds, traffic, door-dingers, slow checkout lines, telemarketers, most politicians, and anything or anyone else that impedes my divinely sanctioned pursuit of happiness. Besides, I figure heaven or hell is pretty much your choice—unless you happen to be a Calvinist in which case you’ve already got reservations one way or the other and any concern of mine (or yours for that matter) would be wasted energy anyway. My motto generally is “You made your bed; now sleep in it.” On the whole, it’s been a very workable philosophy.

I’m not categorically opposed to helping people see the light. If there’s an honorarium in it for me, I’m happy to wax eloquent about the virtues of a virtuous life. If the stipend is generous enough, I’ll even throw in a little oratorical passion to make it more believable. (Original humor costs more.) I tend to avoid one-on-one enlightenment situations because of the personal dimension which is harder for me to fake, but I can pull it off for brief encounters as long as there is little chance of another meeting. I prefer paying somebody else to win the lost for Christ. Things like this are probably best left to the experts. On the whole, it’s been a very workable religious strategy.

But this little ditty from James (the apostle you love to hate) has me wondering. Simply saving a sinner from eternal damnation isn’t all that great of a motivation. I mean, it’s great for the sinner, but I could never really see anything in the effort for me, the saint. Maybe a sunshiny inner glow works for you, but I’m looking for a little more satisfaction, if you know what I mean. If there’s nothing I can take to the proverbial bank out of the deal, I’ll put my investment somewhere else. The guy can find his own way to Abraham’s bosom. But James drops a little teaser in the equation. He says that the transaction will also “cover over a multitude of sins.” What is not clear is whose sins get covered over, the sinner’s or the whoever who is turning the scumbag around. From the original Greek (for your information, I studied Classical Greek in grad school and know this stuff way better than you) this verse could be translated something like this: Anybody who convinces a sinner that he’s an utterly repulsive worm to God has a good chance of getting away with a few things himself. This proposition interests me and warrants further study.

James is offering us the religious version of the carbon credit system. The idea is that the sin market would actually drive evangelism. Those who enjoy sinning a lot would have the most to gain from helping other sinners repent. In recent years, it’s clear that many high-profile preachers have already adopted this system. It seems that the most virulent sin bashers are those who have been the most active in burning personal sin credits. Of course, this is something many of us have long suspected, but now we have the Biblical justification for it. This is market theology at its finest.

I conclude with a short appeal:

YOU THINK YOU’RE FOOLING GOD? HE KNOWS WHAT’S IN YOUR HYPOCRITICAL, LICENTIOUS HEART. YOU ARE A SLAVE TO SENSUALITY, GREED, AND SELFISHNESS. YOU ARE SMUG WITH A TOTALLY UNWARRANTED CONFIDENCE IN YOUR OWN SPIRITUALITY. BUT GOD SEES YOUR THOUGHTS AND THE ATTITUDES OF YOUR HEART. YOU ARE A PAIN IN THE DIVINE  GLUTEUS MAXIMUS, A DRIED STRING OF SOUL-JERKY FIT ONLY FOR ETERNAL DESTRUCTION, SHAME, AND REALLY BAD CONSTIPATION. YOU ARE A LOATHSOME SLUG OF SICKENING WICKEDNESS, A HATEFUL HUNK OF HEDONISTIC HERESY, A PUSILLANIMOUS PIECE OF PUTRIFYING PULP. DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING TO SLIP BY THE GREAT EYE AM? REPENT YOU STUPID SINNER BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE! FIND A HYSSOP BRANCH AND HIT YOURSELF SILLY WITH IT. RUB YOUR FACE IN THE BOTTOM OF THE OUTDOOR GRILL. REPENT! REPENT! REPENT!*

*I would appreciate a note from anybody who turns from sin as a result of my exhortation. This will help me keep track of sin credits I’ve earned. Thanks.

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