(My local newspaper column)
"Do you believe in the Devil?"
"No, sure no-one has ever seen him, have they?"
So began the second in Anna Nolan's series, "Is there anyone out there?". This one was about sin, the Devil and evil.
I wonder if the man questioned doesn't believe in the wind either - after all, no-one has seen it, have they? Of course we see the effects of wind, and likewise we see the effects of the Devil.
I quoted from CS Lewis last week - odd how this Irishman seems to have answers to most of Anna Nolan's questions - and he commented on our attitude to the unseen world of demons:
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail the materialist or a magician with the same delight."
Some people have an excessive interest, some none at all, but like the hypochondriac and the person who thinks that they will never get sick, both are flawed positions.
The response of another person on the programme surprised me, "Do you believe in evil?" - "No, there is no evil in the world." I wondered what planet was she living on!
For me the most revealing thing was when Anna asked people, "When did you last sin?". For me the answer is always, "in the last couple of minutes" - for there have been wrong attitudes of the heart or mind, words said that shouldn't have been said, or thought. So it was with a measure of amazement that I listened to a couple of women on the show declare that they hadn't sinned for quite a number of years.
Now, either, I'm miles worse than the average human being, or one of us is using the wrong measuring stick. The Bible tells us that, "the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked," that "no-one is good, not even one", and that "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."
I think most people tend to grade sin: there are the really serious sins - murder, adultery, rape, violence; and then there's the other sort, that aren't so bad, an occasional 'white lie', a sharp tongue, an envious glance at someone's new car or house.
Unfortunately God doesn't grade sin in the same way we do. He says, "The commandment against adultery also includes looking at a woman lustfully". He says, "Being unjustly angry with someone breaks the command not to murder." He says, "If you break the law even in one place (one of the places we think of as insignificant) then you are guilty of breaking all of it."
When it comes to sin, some of us may have smashed the window completely, others may have only cracked it, but it doesn't matter, it's still broken.
Human beings, and even churches, may come up with elaborate scales and divisions of sin into different categories, but with God there is only one category, and we're all in it. Anna Nolan asked, "Wouldn't it be great if you could just be forgiven and the slate wiped clean?". And thankfully, the woman she said it to was able to tell her that such a dream was possible. That's exactly what Jesus came to do. None of us can ever make enough amends for our sin to please God; it's far too serious for that. But Jesus comes and offers to wipe our slate clean. We have to admit our wrongdoing, apologise and ask God to change us so that Jesus is now in charge of our life. That doesn't mean that we won't ever sin again, but it does mean that he will give us the strength to fight sin, and will wipe the slate clean when we mess up. That's the good news of the gospel.
The simple truth is this:
We're all sinners. Evil is real; and it exists in each of us. We need God's help to get it out.