Your culture sees what you’ve been; God sees what you can be. Jim Denison
I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
The words of Jeremiah to people in exile because of their sin stand shoulder to shoulder with Jim Denison’s statement which closes a post about the recent leak of a tape made by Monica Lewinsky. The tape is being circulated in one of the media’s endless exploitation of the willingness of the public to be titillated by public immorality. Nobody knows or cares where Monica Lewinsky is now, and the media neither knows nor cares how she may feel about this manipulative use of her story. The point of the publicity about the tape is to stir the cultural pot once more as Hillary Clinton poises herself to try again for the presidency.
The cultural climate today makes it clear that the behavior of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in the past means nothing. The dominant theme of the culture is that each person should figure out what sexual behavior makes him or her happy and then should behave that way as often as possible. The culture won’t view the tape through a moral lens; it will view the tape through an entertainment lens. The culture does not care if two consenting adults engage in sexual behavior that some people consider to be adulterous and wanton. The culture only cares if it is something fun to talk about, especially if it permits the culture to belittle people who do view the tape and the relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky through a moral lens.
In short, the culture is happy to gossip about anything and everything. The culture enjoys gossiping about the fact that some people find the Clinton/Lewinsky relationship shocking and immoral, even as it enjoys smirking at Lewinsky for trying to resurrect the relationship Bill Clinton discarded when it became inconvenient. The culture is entertained by issues that hurt people. The culture happily dissects people and relationships, no matter the circumstances, and after it has put the people through a wringer to extract the last full measure of public comedy, it scornfully flings the remaining dregs into the deep gloom of yesterday’s news. As Jim Denison says so plainly, all the culture remembers is who you were. The culture neither knows nor cares who you are or who you might be.
Jeremiah spoke to people who felt like yesterday’s discarded and forgotten news. They had been crushed in battle with a powerful empire. Their capital city, including their temple, had been violated and destroyed. The people had been transplanted to strange lands, and they not only felt forgotten by God, but they felt hopeless that they could ever get his attention again. Jeremiah brought them a message that said, “God certainly knows what you have been, but God also knows what you can be.”
When I was small, a spanking was still an accepted punishment for the misbehavior of a child. When my brother and I got in the habit of snacking after school on food our mother had told us not to eat, she eventually discovered what we were doing – what made us think that she would not notice that the food had disappeared? Our family’s tight budget meant that what we regarded as a minor error was a major loss, and our behavior called for a major punishment. Each of us received a spanking with Mother’s hairbrush. What I remember most about that experience was what happened next.
After the spanking, I was in tears, more from the shame than the pain, which was minor. I stood up rubbing my eyes and sobbing. When I turned around, my mother stood there sobbing, too. She put her arms around me and said, “I hate doing this. Please don’t ever act like this again.” Then we both cried together. My mother did not want to dwell on this past failure; my mother wanted me to look forward and do better. She had a hopeful view of what I might become.
That is how God feels when he must punish our bad behavior. That is how he felt when he allowed Israel to suffer the consequences of idolatry and wicked behavior. He hated seeing Israel dragged out of the Promised Land, the land he had given to his chosen people. He hated seeing the temple destroyed. He hated the misery the Israelites endured as oppressed captives in a foreign land. Nevertheless, he also hated the way the Israelites had pretended to worship him while actually giving all their loyalty to idols. The Israelites did not simply abandon God for idols. Rather, they pretended to worship him while giving first place to the idols. Rejection was bad, but the deceit was worse.
My mother hated spanking me, but she hated the lie my brother and I perpetrated by eating the forbidden food. Even though she had had plans for that food, it really wasn’t the loss of the food that hurt; it was the deception. Our disobedience was bad, but our sneakiness was worse.
I don’t remember much else about that day, but I will never forget my mother’s tear-stained face as she said, “Please don’t ever act like this again.” God felt that way about the Israelites, too. My mother knew I was capable of better behavior. God knew that Israel was capable of better behavior. When I fail God and mess up and make him simultaneously angry and ashamed of me, God nevertheless still loves me and continues to have plans for me. My mother didn’t throw me out on the street after I made a mistake; she held me close and continued to believe that I had it in me to be a better person.
How do I know that God sees what I can be? I know it because I know what he saw on the cross as Jesus died. Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” and the reason is that all my sins, along with all the sins of the world, covered him at that moment. God looked down at the cross and all he could see there was my sin. When Jesus died, all my sin was washed away in his shed blood. Now when God looks at me, he sees that shed blood. Because I am washed in the blood of Christ, I can become what he created me to be. The gifts God gave me at creation cannot be rubbed out by my sin, but the blood of Christ does “rub out” or wash away my sin. Because God saw my sin on Jesus when he hung on the cross, God can’t see my sin when he looks at me. My next-door neighbor may be blinded by my sin so that she can’t see me, or my boss may be blinded by my sin so that he can’t see me, but God doesn’t see my sin anymore.
Because of the shed blood of Christ on the cross, God says to me as he said to Israel in exile, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
Do not despair. God still sees a future for you.