NEWS FROM THE CENTER FRIDAY DIGEST April 30, 2021
If You, o Lord, Should Mark Iniquities, O Lord, Who Could Stand? But with You There Is Forgiveness
by Peter Scaer
So sings the psalmist in Psalm 130. So sing the Christians. But the cancel culture doesn't know the words or the melody, does not know how to sing in the key of life. We all have flaws aplenty, and we should not take them lightly. They may manifest themselves as character defects, dark propensities, resulting in actions for which we have no defense, words that should never have been said.
In a kind of paraphrase of Psalm 130, Luther wrote "From Depths of Woe I Cry to You." Here's the first stanza.
From depths of woe I cry to Thee,
In trial and tribulation;
Bend down Thy gracious ear to me,
Lord, hear my supplication.
If Thou rememb’rest ev’ry sin,
Who then could heaven ever win
Or stand before Thy presence?
So it is, none of us can boasting stand, for all have shunned God's good commands, and we must live by mercy, mercy that came at a great price. And so the psalmist looks forward to the day when the Lord would redeem us from our iniquities. That is, when the Lord would pay the price for our sin. God's Son would fulfill the law actively and perfectly, overcoming all temptations and performing every good deed. God's Son would fulfill the law passively, suffering the punishments we have so richly deserved.
On the road to Damascus, Saul was thrown off his high horse, and that sort of thing is good for us all. As soon as I call out the sin of others, I call out my own. That doesn’t mean we shouldn't call out sin. After all, what we do harms others. But it means we should recognize we are all in this together. We have all sinned, and Christ has died for us all. Our Lord is not keeping score. He demands justice, but he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. When he speaks of hell, he does so as a warning, so that we need not go there.
So today, it's Winston Churchill. Yesterday, it was Dr. Seuss. The day before it was the founding fathers, a celebrity who tweeted in way that offends, a professor who held an unpopular view, a journalist who write the wrong thing, a sports commentator who said the wrong thing. And it doesn't matter what great things that man or woman has accomplished. What matters is the wart on that one lone place where we think our own skin in unblemished. What matters if that one weakness in a category where we view ourselves strong. It's like accusing Shakespeare of not being a great painter, or the Beatles as not being great athletes. Better yet, it's like accusing Isaac Newton of being unaware of the theory of relativity, or being disappointed in Marco Polo for not journeying to the moon, or saying Alexander the Great's army would be overwhelmed by our drones and missiles.
Well, no. It's worse than that. It's criticism coming from a people who knows nothing of poetry, art, music, or athleticism (except of course for the athletes' commitment to social justice, and their new salary.) It's criticism coming from people who may be literate, but may have never read, or even be able to read, the great authors who have come before them. At its heart it is life of criticizing others, a life without gratitude, a life of unfounded pride.
The cancel culture is about self-justification, about putting people down so that we can raise ourselves up. But it just makes us petty and vindictive. But there is a better path, and that is of humility, to follow the way of the one who washed his disciples' feet, who came in lowly riding on a donkey, who gave himself up to the shame and pain of the cross to redeem the likes of us. O Lord, if you kept a record of sin, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness. And having been forgiven, we can and must forgive, and in doing so, we begin to sing in the key of life.
The Rev. Dr. Peter Scaer is chairman and professor of Exegetical Theology and director of the M.A. program at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.
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