In our prayer meeting yesterday one of the folks mentioned the barrage of corruption news lately. I knew where she was coming from. Companies, investment firms, political leaders – we were hearing of corruption in all these (and other) categories. She suggested that we pray not just for our usual list (mostly sick folks), but for spiritual renewal in our country.
As I thought further about corruption, I thought of three kinds of response we typically have to stories of corruption (or sin) in general.
Sometimes when we hear of corruption or major moral failure we lapse into despair. Especially when leader after leader and institution after institution falls, we can get the idea that there is nothing we can do.
A second response we have might be self-righteousness. We may give thanks that we’re not like those folks. We might emphasize that we’d never do anything like that. Our moral compass us obviously much superior to theirs.
Finally, we sometimes respond with the famous line, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” While the sin or failing currently on display might not be our own, we have a sense that it could have been. We know that while we might not be sinning in that way now, we are capable of it.
Considering New Testament teaching, it seems this third response might be the most Christian. But if it is, what do we do with it? Do we simply loop back into the first response and despair of ever doing better – since we ourselves are mired in moral decay? Or do we selectively apply Jesus’ teaching against judging (and loop back into the second option_ – reckoning that since we don’t want anyone to recognize our failings, i.e., exercise judgment toward us, we shouldn’t recognize anyone else’s failings?
I’d suggest instead that we submit our sin – and the sin (and sinners) we see around us to God. We will seek mercy for ourselves and others, while at the same time recognizing God’s call to holiness and love as not only possible, but truly for our good. When I am held accountable for my sin, it isn’t just about me – or about me and God. My being held accountable is also a way of working justice for those against whom I’ve sinned. In the same way, holding the corrupt accountable is a necessary part of justice for those who have suffered from their corruption. With heavy hearts, knowing our own capacity for sin and the destructiveness it causes, we call sinners to repentance, restitution and restoration.
One of the commonly referenced biblical texts on renewal puts it this way, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, pray, seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, Then will I hear from heave, forgive their sin, and heal their land.”