I know that our culture is captivated with the notion that reality is meaningless and random. Science has "proven" that everything is one gigantic physical cause-and-effect machine, one damned thing after another. "Ethics" doesn't mean conforming or acting according to some universal standard to which we'll someday be held to account. No, what is important is that, at the end of the day, you were true "to yourself."
Funny thing, that phrase. True to yourself. The moral universe is egocentric, revolving around nothing other than your desires and your will. We hear it in a thousand advertisements. If it feels good, "Just Do It." Live like you're going to die young! You deserve some "Me time."
Barack Obama once captured this moral narcissism perfectly. Asked to defined "sin," he said: "Being out of alignment with my values."
The other night I went to a movie, the new biopic of Jackie Robinson, "42." It is quite a terrific film. I thought Harrison Ford just outdid himself as Branch Rickey, the visionary owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers who bravely brought a black man to the major leagues.
Something entirely unprecedented (in my experience) occurred during the film. A number of times I have attended a film at which the audience applauded at the end. That is not so unusual. But the other night, the crowd burst into applause in the middle of the movie.
What got them so energized? A great play? Jackie hitting a home run?
No. The prospect of Judgment Day. The notion that one day we are all going to give an account before the Lord Almighty. The idea that "sin" isn't being out of alignment with our values, but being out of alignment with God's values.
You may think I'm joking, but I am not. Every so often the Truth strikes us so powerfully it momentarily jolts us out of our make-believe, fantasy universe in which we are our own gods.
The scene is a telephone conversation between Branch Rickey and Phillies General Manager, Herb Pennock. Pennock informs Rickey that he is welcome to take the bus trip down to Philly for the upcoming series, but the Phillies wouldn't be playing the Dodgers. Herb was very clear: the Philadelphia Phillies refused to play on a baseball diamond that had a black man on it.
Branch Rickey asks Herb: "Do you think God likes baseball, Herb?"
Pennock has no idea where this is going, and says as much.
Rickey angrily shouts into the telephone: "Someday you're going to meet God. And when he inquires as to why you didn't take the field against Robinson in Philadelphia and you answer that it's because he was a Negro, it may not be a sufficient reply!"
As Rickey slammed the telephone, the entire audience in the theater burst into spontaneous applause. Because everybody really knows, despite what we say, that Judgment Day is real; Judgment Day is necessary; Judgment Day is righteous. Maybe our senses are dulled in everyday life. Maybe when we're not immediately confronted with some great moral wrong we like to pretend that it's all about alignment with our own values. But this crowd couldn't help themselves; they saw Herb Pennock's ugly racism for what it was: a moral evil that needed judgment.
The real Judgment Day will be exactly like that. When the Righteous Judge starts exposing and requiting every wrong, nobody will be thinking what a jerk and a stick-in-the-mud the Judge is. They'll all be cheering wildly.
And the Judge is giving you an awesome grace and opportunity today, to get this urgent question answered:
What will you do when he gets to you?