Only Tool in the Toolbox

By Joel A. Hess

This past week I had the pleasure of talking to a young lady at a bar about Jesus. She wanted to talk about President Trump. She said she was studying the heartland, the Midwest, to find out how in the world we all could vote for him. Yes, she blatantly assumed that everyone in the Midwest voted for Trump. All the while, she sat in a bar in St. Louis, a city that likely did not unanimously vote for Trump, like most cities. She also assumed that all conservative Christians voted for him as well. She didn’t even ask if everyone sitting there voted for him. She just assumed. Of course, how many Midwesterners assume that all the residents of coasts voted for Hillary? There is a lot of assuming out there. You know what they say—assume makes a donkey out of you and me. This country is full of them, and I’m the worst. Lord have mercy.

After stuffing all of Christendom under the big tent of Republicanism, I did my best to convince her that the goals of authentic, orthodox, apostolic Christianity are not political victories or even to make the world morally pure. Unfortunately, I have plenty of colleagues who don’t help my case!

She was ultimately on a mission to make the world a better place. I agreed with her that it stinks out there. But the problem wasn’t out there. It was right in that room, right in that bar. The nasty disease that infected God’s good creation was right in my heart and hers. She was a little shocked. “I don’t believe it. I’m a good person,” she confessed. “So everyone else is bad, except for you?” “Well no, everyone has some good in them. I have faith in that. It’s my only hope!” Yes, she said that. After listing all the problems in the world, she had hope in humanity. It is an illogical statement. But it begins with her not feeling that she was that bad of a person.

I could not judge her. I know what it’s like to believe in that. Oh, how I too pretend the same. I would never say it, but I act like it. I compare myself to others. I look down on unbelievers. I laugh at other’s failings and public embarrassments. Sure, I confess every Sunday that I’m generally a poor, miserable sinner. But I can manage my sins pretty well. I don’t cling every morning to God’s grace and gift of forgiveness. I can go days without even really thinking about it.

My friend Dr. Scott Keith pointed out that people say they aren’t that bad, but deep down they know it. Sometimes it’s really deep, and I need a friend, a preacher, a wife to put a mirror in front of me to see it. I hoped to do that for her in our short time. She didn’t buy it.

Today, people aren’t attending church like they used to, though they are searching for meaning and answers. Some say it’s due to public education, the teaching of evolution, clever atheists, or other philosophies. But this young lady demonstrated probably the most common obstacle. It’s as old as Adam who bought into it in the garden: self-righteousness. Nothing new, my friends. We all got it. We are born with it. Against all the facts, human beings believe they are righteous, though they are quick to point out the unrighteousness in everyone else!

There is no greater obstacle to God’s love and mercy. What can break such a malady that so tightly twists around humanity’s DNA? It can’t be done with logic or empirical evidence because self-righteousness is a blindness, a deafness, a deadness.

Nothing except the Word of God. It’s all we have been given by our Lord. It’s the only tool in the toolbox. It’s the only reason any of us believe today.

I could have stopped and just assumed she wasn’t going to get it. I could have assumed she was too far gone, too deeply attached to the wisdom of the world. You know what they say about assuming.

Against my better judgment, I assumed that Jesus’ words work. So I pressed on to tell her about Jesus, about how he didn’t come to set up a new morality, a new political order, or to make America or the world great again. I told her about God’s love for sinners, only sinners. It’s OK to admit you have messed up your life before God. You don’t have to pretend you are something you are not. You don’t have to hide behind rationalizations. Jesus died for her and paid the price for all her sins, whether she believes it or not. Jesus rose for her and conquered death, whether she believes it or not. It happened. God loves her whether she believes it or not!

She didn’t believe it. “Too good to be true,” she said. Then she got up and went to the bar and didn’t come back.

But I trust in God’s Word, and I trust in His love for her. I gave her something. It’s all I really have to give. Maybe one day, when the you-know-what hits the fan, God will cause her to remember those words, and they will give her hope. A hope not founded in humanity or her own goodness, but in the goodness of God in Jesus Christ. Lord have mercy.