Putting the “Ugh” in Ugly

Roots--Patrick Murphy

Sketch by Patrick Murphy

Yesterday, Americans elected Donald Trump as their next president.  (Read my pre-election thoughts here).  Today, the news and social media are blowing up with opinions about this election.  (Silly me, I thought it would be over yesterday).  Cyber-space is full of doomsday predictions, verbal attacks, defensiveness, cattiness, and righteous indignation in both political camps.  We are putting the “ugh” in ugly for sure.

Here’s what interests me: Most of the time, your average person won’t excuse ugly behavior.  Why do we excuse ourselves at a time like this?  Because we’re right in our own eyes.  Full of our own good cause, we have no qualms about going juggernaut on everyone.

This brings me to the book of Genesis.  Most of us know about the fall of man.  The serpent offered Adam and Eve an apple, right?  Weeell, not exactly.

Genesis says God placed two trees in the middle of the garden of Eden: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9).  God told Adam and Eve they could eat from every tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen.  2:16-17).  The serpent tempted them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil saying, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).

What fundamentally corrupts people is wielding the knowledge of good and evil from our own perspective.  The evil side of things is fairly obvious to us.  Most of us are appalled by murder, corporate theft, child abuse, hate crimes, and the like.  But we will accept the murder of unborn children because of a good thing like choice.  Or we will bomb an abortion clinic because protecting children is good.  Property damage is always in style.  No matter what the cause, the knowledge of good and evil is the badge we flash.  It proves our right to carry ourselves like gods.

Martin Luther said, “[T]his sin, this opinion of man’s own righteousness refuses to be classified as sin.  It wants to be esteemed as high-class religion” (from Commentary on Galatians).  High-class religion isn’t what people aspire to these days.  But we can easily adapt Luther’s comments.  The sin of our own righteousness wants to be esteemed as environmental consciousness, family values, minority rights, Christian heritage, tolerance, or whatever other flag people want to plant.

Whatever comes from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is fallen.  The other tree, the tree of life, is of a different order.  This tree is exemplified by the cross of Christ (1 Peter 2:24).  Here, a man who was wholly and truly good died for us who weren’t.  When this perfect man was attacked He didn’t draw His lungs full of righteous indignation and bellow (1 Peter 2:23).  The blamelessness of Christ didn’t give Him license to blame all of us–even though we deserved it.  When the justice system failed this ethnic minority, Jesus didn’t rally the ACLU or start rioting.  All in all, Jesus did none of the things we justify by the knowledge of good and evil.

The tree of life is what we need.  Here, we die to ourselves instead of vaunting ourselves and our good causes.  Here, we all say, “I’m wrong,” and bow before the One who became sin so we could become righteousness in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

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