Something about sandpaper and three kinds of sin
Over eighteen months back, three men took to a cricket field in South Africa as part of Australia's national team: an instigator, a perpetrator and a bystander. The bystander turned out to be the team's captain, but more about that later. What transpired has consumed endless ink and opinion. One player instructed another to introduce a foreign object to the ball (sandpaper). Another player carried out the action at an unfortunate moment (the cameras trained on his midriff). The other stood by seemingly oblivious to the shenanigans. While some indiscretions in cricket are unfortunate for apparent reasons (get bowled, and your innings is over!), this one dug deeper into the mud for not only being against the laws of the game but against the spirit of the game as well. It certainly wasn't the first time ball-tampering had happened in the history of cricket, but the optics weren't good. If there was any sense that this would be swept away quickly, the endless replays and a tidal wave of negative sentiment demanded retribution. It was not only seen as dastardly but symptomatic of more systemic evil in the nation's beloved sport. Heads rolled from the top down. Some by association - being a party to a style of play that could produce this toxic brand of sportsmanship. Some for their direct role in the act - the perpetrator received a nine-month suspension. Some for their proactive and acquiescent roles in conjuring the blight as leaders - two players received year-long suspensions. Tears flowed, regrets were many, and reactions divided, but they were united on a couple of matters. It was wrong. It was a profound error in judgement. It reflected a culture in which right and wrong had become cloudy, not crystalline. A 'line', which seemed ever-shifting for many in the team, had been crossed, and it should be punished. Behind that maelstrom of opinion over which many couldn't give a rip, lay a stark presentation of humanity and the unspectacular diversity of sin. In the Garden of Eden was an instigator. The Bible refers to the instigator as 'the crafty serpent' but, for brevity, let's call it 'Warner'. Warner's sin was promoting sin - selling it and diluting its potency and ability to destroy in the guise of what it might deliver: the knowledge of good and evil (or an upper hand in the game). It was destructive and wrecked the whole show. It tarnished the hearts of the others in the story and left a stain that they would be incapable of removing. In was the sin of PERMISSION. It's ok to do wrong; in fact, the upside of the act makes the sin worthwhile. Except it didn't. Not by a long, long shot. The second character in the Eden story was the patsy. Let's call her 'Bancroft'. She was coerced into an action by an authority that seemed more powerful and convinced her that wrong really wasn't so bad. Warner (as we're calling him) had no desire to play the story forward, nor to regard the short and sweet rule/s of the garden. It was the flagrant disregard of Warner for truth and righteousness that caused Bancroft to question her sense of what was right. And so Bancroft took the bitter pill. She ate the apple which, while sold as innocuous, was a gateway to a sandpaper-storm of wrong that nor only marked her, but everyone who would play the game of life. Depending on your vantage of such things, Bancroft's role was either the greatest error or the most benign. Ultimately, though, she did it. This is the sin of COMMISSION. There was something that should never be done — it was against the law and the spirit of the garden; a direct contravention of what had been established for the ultimate good of all involved. However you apportion blame for this game-changing atrocity, Bancroft sinned. The sin of commission. Who of us doesn't know this brand of sin? We're seemingly incapable of resisting these lawbreakers. We might be squeaky clean when it comes to sandpaper, but there are plenty more nuanced versions of sandpaper on offer. Guidelines for right living are laid out before us, and we turn left. We turn left for all sorts of reasons: belligerence, rebellion, poor judgement, or hurt and bitterness. Whatever our motivation, it's generally for a short-term win. Sometimes we're right, the short-term delivers a level of satisfaction. Other times, it's an instant penalty. Either way, the medium and long-term see us on a deathbed of regret. Sometimes our volitional decisions are a slow-releasing poison spreading through our lives, wreaking havoc in small and enormous ways. When presented in terms as stark as these, the decision to go right or turn left seems a simple one. But sin makes you stupid. What seems evident in the light of day can be twisted like a snake in the dead of night. We love that darkness because there's a sin-stain in our hearts that likes to shroud the truth. It acts like a magnet to dumb-ass words and actions, yet it's also embedded with a reminder of right living prompting us to hide our shame in darkness (or down our cricket pants if necessary). The end of many endings are sins of commission. That should cover it, but there's a third stream of the virus that we mightn't instantly identify, but with which we're plenty familiar. The sin of OMISSION. It's the 'standing idly by' sin; the inaction in the face of injustice; or the acquiescent "don't tell me about it" response. Call this variation of the dark art, 'Smith'. It's Adam in the garden, knowing the law of the jungle, hearing the temptation of the servant, but failing to man-up and take a stand. It's Smith in the changeroom, knowing the culture for which he was tone-setter, observing the clandestine and playing the role of an innocent bystander. Doing nothing. We're quick to judge these profound errors of judgement. The lack of intervention. But are we genuine in our condemnation when we look in the mirror and see planks of all dimensions in our own eyes? Our passivity in the face of injustice speaks volumes. Our willingness to allow the bully to go about their subterfuge, essentially ratifying sin through silence. Our silence on asylum seekers, dwindling foreign aid, unreasonable detention, environmental vandalism, spiritual abuse, and paedophilia highlight a few of the planks we carry unchecked. Suddenly, ball-tampering seems awfully tame. Smith will long live with the stain caused by his impotent omission. Some feel that's harsh, others that it's entirely appropriate, but the reason that Smith endured a harrowing, eviscerating twelve months isn't up for consideration. The sin of omission gives permission for darkness to fester. It gives birth to a full-blown sin baby. One that can metastasise in all kinds of perverse directions. It's said that daylight is the best antiseptic. Truth and light expose sin. We don't talk about dragging stuff into the light because we're sadistic or masochistic. We talk about it because it's the way we move towards purity. Problem is, truth without grace only finds us naked with the harsh light of exposure. Worse, we're utterly incapable of righting our own lefts in the perfect sense. Confession is a sweet and brutal currency, but it still leaves us bankrupt when it comes to righteousness. There needs to be a bigger story of redemption. One far greater than our own. One capable of dealing with our sin-stain. Not the single blot, but the permanent, seemingly unremovable mark. And then there's Jesus. The soundtrack of the story moves from a minor key to a major one. Full of truth but, vitally, full of grace. His grace is capable of carrying away the blot of our sin-stain and making it just as if we'd never sinned. If this seems a trivial transaction, we haven't considered the cost. We haven't contemplated the brutality of the cross, the scourging of whips and barbs. The blood flowing freely. The nails being hammered into the hands and feet of the 'lamb of God who would carry away the sin of the world'. For all the suffering He endured, the brutality perpetrated upon Him, the silence of those who could have stepped in, he willingly hung—the weight of our sin upon Him. There's nothing cheap about amazing grace. It was at once life-taking and life-giving. The One who conquered sin and death reigns victorious over the twin enemies of humanity. The One who conquers owns the power of the vanquished. For all this, Jesus stands with nail-scarred hands of grace extending a ridiculous exchange: our sin for His righteousness. Our bondage for the freedom He offers. Our litany of short-term losses for his abundance of long-term glory. Like the pivotal moment in the garden, echoed in that South African changeroom and reverberating through our lives, it begins with a decision. While Jesus has ended the hostility of sin and death through His death and resurrection, He extends each one of us the most almighty invitation anyone could accept: a call to put our trust in the one capable of extending all life to us. The only one who can offer us abundant life does. Stunning! To all who receive the invitation, he gives the power to be children of God. To enjoy a life that is greater than we could conjure because it's championed by the giver of life. The beginning of the way is simple enough, but its effect is life-changing. Confession. Repentance. Submission. Acceptance. And a life following in the way of life. Abundant life. That is what full grace a looks like. A person. Jesus.
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