Monday, March 15, 2021

The exaggeration of suffering. . .

As I write this I am listening to the weather person telling us of a winter storm that is dumping as much as 2 feet of snow on some spots in its movement across America.  The more this weather person talked, the worse the storm became.  It was easily the worst storm in 5 years (a lifetime!).  It was causing incredible disruptions of work, traffic, and business.  But as this TV personality was telling us how awful the storm was, the image on the screen behind the person showed children sledding, throwing snow balls, and making snowmen.  They were not so troubled by the storm and seemed to be genuinely enjoying it.  It is but one more example of how the media exaggerates our suffering for effect.

We all love to exaggerate our misery.  We are always complaining about how bad our back aches or how terrible our head aches or how difficult our work or how terrible our co-workers or how awful our neighbors and so on and so on and so on.  It seems that we sometimes enjoy elevating the misery of the moment to misery of a lifetime or generation.  How bad was it?  You don't want to know but let me tell you just the same.  

Exaggeration is one way to manipulate our opinion.  Even if we are not suffering at the moment, the overwhelming suffering of others is used as a social message to bring us down with them.  COVID coverage has been good on this -- long on images and threatening language but short on substance and statistics.  Come on, now.  We are this far into it and I still have not seen statistics to say exactly what percentage of those with the virus have complications that require hospitalization or how many of those who died with the diagnosis actually died because of COVID or if once vaccinated one could still get the virus or pass it on to others.  I hear many horror stories but few solid facts.  I am not at all denying the seriousness of the pandemic but challenging the way it has been covered.

We have turned exaggeration into an art.  We have practiced the art of it all in our effort to show that of all people we are the most miserable.  Yet there is one area we do not exaggerate.  We do not expand our sin, its guilt and its shame.  Instead, we do just the opposite.  We minimize our complicity in sin and our responsibility for the things we have thought, said, and done wrong.  We have learned how to manipulate the way sin works and fashioned ourselves the ultimate victims of sin who endure the ultimate suffering for sin (that we contributed little toward!).  It is always somebody else's fault or there is always a reason why our sin should not count but the sins of others should.

We have even applied this to the past -- holding the folks from long ago subject to the scrutiny of the popular morality of the day.  Predictably, we do not find them worthy and, instead, tear down not only the statues erected in their honor and memory but the memories themselves.  I don't know whether it is actually possible or means anything to take back posthumously honors once bestowed but we live in an age in which it will be tried and turned into a vocation.  We not only want to rewrite our story, we want to rewrite everyone's story to steal away any attention given to anyone but us and how hard we have it.

My kids call it first world problems -- difficulties with our cell phones, laptops, printers, and all the tech toys as well as trying to find a storage place for the things we want while finding people to take the things we do not.  Yet from listening to us you would never get the idea that we were people of privilege at all.  We have exaggerated our suffering and minimized the privileges all around us and have turned this into its own art form -- of which we are its masters!

In the Church the Word of God gives no countenance to such artificial words.  Exaggeration of goodness, like exaggeration of suffering, may be fun and the current pass-time of the privileged but it has no place in the Church.  The good we should, we do not.  The evil we should not, we do.  We are miserable examples of humanity since we cannot rein in our desires or live the noble, upright, and godly lives we were created to live.  But I will tell you what the Church and the Word of God do -- they call us to account, place us before the judgment seat, and require answer from us for the wrongs we have thought, said, and done.  That is the primary function of the Law -- to expose us to the Light where sins cannot be hidden and our failures cannot be explained away any more.  One of the most helpful things we can do for the world is to hold them accountable -- not for us to judge but for God to discern the hearts and know the minds of all and tell us what repentance compels us to say and do.

Interestingly, we no longer exaggerate the sufferings of Jesus.  Where once the artist, sculptor, and craftsman went to great lengths to give us a representation of Jesus' sufferings that would stop us in our tracks, we focus on each of us more than upon Christ.  Our suffering and cause we exaggerate but the sufferings of Jesus and the cause of the Gospel is diminished among us.  That is the plight of modernity.  To end the foolishness of it all, God must call us the humility of repentance and to the cause of faith.  Only then will we begin to realize that we have backwards.  Our guilt we cannot over emphasize but the innocence of Christ who suffers for us where we should have suffered we cannot address enough.  That is how upside down faith is.

Lord, have mercy on us. Open our eyes to the truth.  Open our hearts to Your Spirit.  Open our minds to Your Word.  And lead us to confess to You all the wrongs we have thought, said, and done.  When our hearts have sufficiently stewed in the stew of our own guilt, release us not my minimizing our guilt but by maximizing Your grace and mercy.  Amen.

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