Ever since Jesus cried ‘Woe’ to the scribes and Pharisees, his disciples have been calling out the two-faced hypocrites and judiciously discerning whitewashed tombs – those who look all meek and sheepish on the outside, but their inner life is one of perversion, pride and all kinds of filth. They readily point the finger of accusation, jabbing it into the foreheads of those with whom they disagree vehemently, seemingly oblivious to their morning prayer they probably didn’t pray: ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ Righteousness is holy consciousness: self-righteousness is a corruption of holiness. To be in a right relationship with God is fraught with complexity, tension and controversy, but that relationship can never be right when obedience to the Father manifests as arrogance in the name of the Son.
There is a certain type of Christian who thinks an awful lot about evil: the government is evil; the EU is of the Devil; the Church of England is anathema; Tories are a plague; Socialists are satanic… all of which is a whole lot easier than locating the evil in our own hearts and acknowledging the evil we inflict on others… and then repenting of it. What evil will you do in the world today? Tell a lie? Steal a download? Cheat with clever words? Glance at porn? Say something you don’t mean? Pretend to be what you are not? Funny, isn’t it, how we’re so obsessed with cleansing the institutional Temple that we forget to cleanse the personal temple each day, and so the chaff strangles the fruits of the Spirit, and the light of Christ is dimmed.
The Church may be choking with weeds – interminable debates about capitalism, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia – but when you pray ‘deliver us from evil‘, how often have you conflated obedience to God with knowing the right answer? How often have you mistaken sacred power for the ethic of obedience, or the spirit of Jesus for personal insight? Isn’t there more to the divine-human dynamic than obedience to rules and regulations? Isn’t there something more divinely transformational when we allow the Spirit to work on us inwardly, rather than focusing on retribution for those who disobey what we insist is the right way?
What is the love of God if it is constrained by obedience? What is the greatest expression of divinity if it is bound by our human parental instincts of demanding submission for reward and punishment for rebellion? What manner of prophet obeys all spiritual authorities? What kind of Jesus submits to those who tell him he is wrong?
Isn’t God bigger than all the Church’s petty squabbles? He isn’t some great power without, to whom we must submit on pain of damnation: He is an awesome power within, with whom we must walk in the fellowship of justice and love; of peace and reconciliation. The Spirit of Life is about mutuality and humility; the spirit of evil seeks to judge, demolish and condemn. Those who are scrupulously right about every jot and tittle of doctrine and ecclesiology are so fond of highlighting the sin and rebellion in the lives of others that they can’t see the addictive perfectionism of their own. It is almost as if the need to be right trumps the command to love – a love which is so often defined as saving souls from themselves, rather than serving, ministering and healing.
When you become absorbed daily with the sins of others and obsessed by the rebellion in their hearts, and all you do is frequent a blog thread and Facebook Messenger or send a few tweets of scorn and condemnation, that is not obedience to God’s holiness, but insufferable pettiness to your virtue-signalling self-righteousness. ‘Scrupulous for Christ’ is not a New Testament exhortation: it is a spiritual problem; a bondage which blinds us from the real sin and the real evil that we do in the world.
If you eat the body and drink the blood of Christ without examining yourself and asking forgiveness of those you have offended, you abuse the Lord’s Supper, the purpose of which is restoration, wholeness and healing. The problem of the infallibles is not that they do not care for their brethren, but that they are so busy counting the Church’s sins on the head of a pin that they miss their pet elephant taking a dump in the living room. The more they judge and criticise, the more they alienate one from the other. The more they pretend to holy fraternity, good works and speaking the truth in love, the more they are radicalised by resentment and become slaves to self-absorption. They may be content to float through life in a spiritual bubble, but Jesus got his hands dirty – serving, ministering, healing, and sacrificing himself so that we might become more fully human and share in the spirit of divinity.
The only way for Christians to live is relationally, creatively and lovingly. You may prefer to wake up every morning and count the betrayals of trust or list the latest corruptions and perversions of truth, but the mission is to build communities of love, radiating peace and fostering reconciliation. Sin is a denial of our power in relation: it negates creativity and stifles love. But the idea of love is not an act of love: it is a mission-deflecting abstraction, subverting the justice-love dynamic through which and by which Christians are supposed to grow and change to be more Christlike. But all this is just liberal pseudo-spiritual quasi-theological satanic waffle. Far easier to see the evil in others than to acknowledge it in ourselves… and then repent of it.