The colourless monotony of sin
Some parts of the Bible seem mind numbingly boring.
Am I allowed to write that? Has the minister lost his senses? Quick! Report him to Presbytery!
Allow me to explain. As you read through the account of the reigns of successive Kings of Israel you find that their lives are repeatedly summed up in the words ‘He did evil in the eyes of the Lord,’ or some variant thereof. One king after another is described, sometimes remarkably briefly, and then the words, ‘And he did evil in the eyes of the Lord’ sum things up, and sometimes there is a description in more or less detail of the nature of their wickedness.
It is a bit monotonous. In fact, it is very monotonous and you find yourself waiting for the assessment like a repeat prescription. Here is Nadab: ‘he did evil in the eyes of the lord’ (1 Kings 15:26). Here is Baasha: ‘he did evil in the eyes of the Lord’ (1 Kings 15:34). Here is Elah who ‘provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger by … worthless idols’ (1 Kings 16:13). Here is Zimri who died ‘doing evil in the eye of the Lord’ (1 Kings 16:19). Here is Omri who ‘did evil in the eyes of the lord and sinned more than all those before him.’ (1 Kings 16:25). Here is Ahab who gets the prize because he ‘did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any before him.’ (1 Kings 16:30) Oh, for someone for whom it is not said of them! Why this dull, dreich echo of abject failure? Answer - because that is all there was to say.
Other sources suggest that some of these kings achieved a great deal in military or economic arenas, but the Scriptures often dismiss these men with little more than a footnote, and a near identical spiritual and moral assessment of each of them. They did evil in the eyes of the Lord. It seems boring and tedious because it is the record of sinful men who do nothing more notable than repeat and amplify the sins of those who preceded them. There is an important lesson from the tedious nature of these parts of the Bible. They usefully expose the tedium of sin.
I recently watched an episode of the American sitcom, ‘The Big Bang Theory’. It is a show which features four geeky, socially inept scientists who work at Caltech, and their friendship with a waitress called Penny. The geekiness and intellect of the four young academics is contrasted, for comic effect, with Penny's social skills and common sense. In this episode the guys are invited to a party at Penny’s. For four social misfits like these characters this presents quite a challenge. How will they socialise with Penny’s ‘normal’ friends? How will they speak to those with whom they have so little in common?
The evening of the party arrives and all four of them, in marked breach of universally accepted protocol, arrive early. As the party progresses, one of their number, Sheldon, attempting to understand how to interact with partygoers, describes the strange behaviour of those around him who, having imbibed copious amounts of alcohol, sidle up to each other and open conversation by saying, ‘Am I wasted, or what?’. The relentless repetition puzzles him. The humour lies in the simple observation that alcoholic excess, which patently makes people feel ill and behave reprehensibly, is nonetheless seen as a means of having what purports to be a good time. So everyone does the same. As a social outsider, Sheldon is mystified by this oddly monotonous behaviour.
Curiously, the writers of the sitcom, insightful as they are as to the dubious notion that relentless alcoholic excess leads to a good time, seem blind to the dangers of casual sex which feature in so many other episodes.
Sin can never be creative. It does no more than repeat and imitate. It can only do what has been done before. There is nothing fresh about it. There is a mind-numbing monotony about evil and wickedness. There is something grey and drab and tedious about sin. It ruins and corrupts and copies, but it certainly does nothing original. There is no delight in sin, only destruction.
I have on my shelves a book which I have yet to read in full entitled, ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil’ by Hannah Arendt. As the title suggests, it is her observations of the trial of the Nazi, Adolf Eichman. It is fascinating how she depicts evil as banal, which basically means that it lacks any kind of freshness or originality. One of her many observations on this man, who was responsible for so much in the Holocaust, is that he never thought for himself, just mindlessly carried out Hitler’s orders. Evil truly is banal.
We need to grasp the truth that dull monotony is the hallmark of godlessness, because we are always in danger of believing the reverse. Anti-Christian propaganda would have us believe that the Christian life is a dull life, gutted of the thrills and spills of a ‘normal’ life. We are enticed into concluding that following Christ involves embracing a second-rate existence, from which all the fun has been removed.
The Christian life is a liberated life, in which we are set free from the grey shackles of the power of sin and released to be truly human. You need only read one of the gospels and catch the glimpse they give of the life of Christ to be excited by the possibilities of humanity as perfectly lived in Him. The exciting thing is that it is precisely His life that God wants to imprint on ours.
Is it any wonder that some of the greatest creative works in music and literature have been inspired by Jesus?