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How many pluses?

January 23, 2012

One of the things you will often hear as a knock against God is that He is a mean-spirited and vindictive God.  How dare He condemn people who are “basically good” just because there are one or two things in their lives?  Don’t all the good things count?  The argument is that, on balance, a person can be basically good, maybe even very good, and still God condemns them.

If the argument of “on balance” is valid then the question becomes this:  How many pluses does it take to overcome the minuses?  Is being good 51% of the time enough?  Can we sneak into heaven by the skin of our teeth?  Or is a larger majority needed and, if so, how much?  Are the good things we do, and the bad things we do, recorded somewhere like credits and debits in some sort of celestial set of books and should they be?  Or perhaps that is not the right question at all.

Joe Paterno has died.  The legendary long-term coach of the Penn State football team died yesterday of cancer just two months after he was fired in disgrace following news of allegations of sexual molestation leveled against one of his assistants.  Paterno reported the allegations to his superiors promptly but then, we are told, did nothing to follow-up or expose the charges.  The facts are still to be decided.

The abuse charges are horrific.  If true, the fact that nothing was done for years is also a horror.  I have no idea where blame for that “nothing” lies but there seems to be plenty to go around.  What is clear however is the overwhelming chorus of voices in the media and the blogosphere denouncing Paterno for his role, or at least his inactivity, in this issue.  It is that response that gives me a clue to the balance sheet question.

If there was ever a case for the “on balance” argument it is Paterno.  On the plus side there are hundreds of young men over decades of his life that testify to how much he has done for them.  His football program has one of the highest graduation rates of any in major sports.  There had never been issues of scandal that has beset numerous other programs.  Yet this long line of pluses was not enough to clear his guilt.  When the entire set was put on the balance scale and one big fat negative was on the other, he was judged guilty and fired, with that firing applauded or even called not enough.

The balance sheet argument is invalid.  No amount of right erases wrong.  Only forgiveness and grace is enough.  A cheating spouse can’t earn back his or her partner’s love.  But grace and forgiveness can give it back.  A thief can’t earn the right to be trusted again, but grace can let us trust him.  And it is true with God.  There is no balance sheet in His hand as He examines are lives.  The whole balance sheet concept is meaningless to Him.

If all I have to go on as I stand before God is a balance sheet, woe to me.  But that is not the case.  I have the redeeming love of a heavenly father, the incredible sacrifice of His son on the cross, and the amazing grace of a forgiveness my balance sheet could never earn.

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From → Christianity

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