Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hey Santa, Define Good

Three weeks before Thanksgiving, and the mall is aglitter with everything corporate Christmas.  Tinseled lights span the open air over shoppers' heads.  Cantaloupe-sized ornaments adorn a floor to ceiling tree near one of the larger stores.  And every storefront's picture window tries to outdo the next in an attempt to catch a shopper's eye.

The store window that makes my jaw drop isn't a nearly naked Victoria's Secret or the more edgy Spencer's.  It's P.S. Aeropostale for kids.  Flanking both sides of the door on the glass are vinyl letters that read "Hey Santa, Define Good."  Behind the identical slogans hang life-sized images of young teens.

The right image shows a boy casually tossing a snowball inches above his hand while his left hand tightly grips a second snowball.  His deep smirk shows he's seriously considering his next move, likely pelting the person or place he's staring at intently in the distance.

To the left, though, is the more disturbing image.  A redhead smirks mischievously while she points behind both shoulders, an image that hearkens back to those old animated classics where a cartoon angel sat on one shoulder and a red devil on the other as the poor character struggled with these two parts of his conscience within.

Here, the angel is represented by a white girl holding a golden halo above her blonde hair.  The devil is represented by a black girl with a sulky attitude, her hands on her hips in defiance.  While the model has no horns on her raven-black haired head, her thin red leggings mimic the shape of those horns, making her association with the "devil" side of the conscience more subtle than with the cartoon devils of the past.

If I could get past the blatant racism that makes me gag where white girls are angels and black girls are devils, where white girls make good choices and black girls make bad choices--then I would be stuck with the equally disturbing Bill Clinton-esque message to our children:

Hey Santa, Define Good.

Define.  Good.

The Psalmist says, "There is no one who does good.  The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God.  They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one" (Ps. 14:1b-3).

Our God who minces words, who skips over centuries without comment in Scripture--this same God repeats this passage almost verbatim in Psalm 53: "There is no one who does good. God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there is anyone who understands,Who seeks after God. Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one" (Ps. 53:1b-3).

When God repeats Himself, He wants to make sure we get the point.  There is no one good.

And if that's not enough, Paul repeats the same passage a third time in Romans 3:10-12: "as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for GodAll have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.'"

No matter how good we think we may be, it's clear--we're not, no matter how good we think our words and deeds are.  

So, let's define 'good.'

As Paul reminds us in Romans 3, to be "good" is to be "righteous."  Righteous is one of those big words that simply means to be perfect as God is perfect.  To achieve Godly perfection, a person would need to be perfect in every action, in every thought, in every word, and in every intent of our heart.  

Action.  Thought.  Word.  Intent.  

To be righteous is to be 100% perfect according to God's plumb line, not according to man's definitions.

Based on God's definition of righteousness and goodness, then, we all fail.  Jesus, Himself, said, "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).

The Pharisees worked diligently to make certain their actions lined up with God's laws.  The problem was that righteousness and goodness is not merely about our external actions.  It's about the heart.  

In the Old Testament after a long "to do" list of actions that one should do if he is to be considered righteous, God sums up by saying, "if he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully—he is righteous" (Ezekiel 18:9).  And if we go back to those Psalms, both repeat the phrase "seek after God."  

It is this seeking that indicates a person's faith in God.  As Paul says, "For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'But the righteous man shall live by faith'" (Rom. 1:17).

Righteousness is only obtained--even if only in a small part while here on this earth--by demonstrating faith in God, by seeking after God.  Faith is not empty faith like "I believe in the existence of God" but a faith in action, one that demonstrates belief that God means every word He says in Scripture and then acts and thinks accordingly.

Righteousness...goodness, if you will, should be the divine goal of all children of God.   It is not the punchline for a store window.

God, not Santa, defines what is righteous.  He defines it with His very character, with His just actions, with His mercy and compassion, with His judgment of sin. 

That's the message we should be teaching ourselves and our children. 

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