Augustine of Hippo, Satan comment on the Vancouver riot

[Analyst Bob Whitelaw] says the riot would’ve likely happened whether the Canucks won or lost.

“With the loss, that seemed to give people the right to set police cars on fire, turn vehicles over, but the excitement of winning would’ve spilled over,” Whitelaw said, adding that it appears some of the instigators were not hockey fans.

—Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun article

There was a pear tree near our vineyard, heavy with fruit, but fruit that was not particularly tempting either to look at or to taste. A group of young blackguards, and I among them, went out to knock down the pears and carry them off late one night, for it was our bad habit to carry on our games in the streets till very late. We carried off an immense load of pears, not to eat—for we barely tasted them before throwing them to the hogs. Our only pleasure in doing it was that it was forbidden.…

What did I enjoy in that theft of mine? Of what excellence of my Lord was I making perverse and vicious imitation? Perhaps it was the thrill of acting against Your law—at least in appearance, since I had no power to do so in fact, the delight a prisoner might have in making some small gesture of liberty—getting a deceptive sense of omnipotence from doing something forbidden without immediate punishment.

—Augustine of Hippo, Confessions II.iv.9,

[Augustine’s] thought went like this. “Everyone knows there is a divine law which forbids theft, so if I can steal and get away with it this will show that I am not subject to God or to any divine law. And if I am not subject to any law which defines what is good, then the good will simply be what I say it is. Hence I will be free and omnipotent. I can do what I want and what I want is the good.”

—Colin Starnes, Augustine’s Conversion, p. 42

Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?…You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

—Satan, Genesis 3:1, 4–5

Jesus knows the law won’t help you (Mark 7:14–23)

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:4

If you’re the father or mother of a teenager, then you’ve probably had to face the implications of this verse. When children are younger, you can develop a whole system of rules to keep them in line. Often, this helps give them the structure they need to develop and learn right from wrong. By the time they’re teenagers, however, they chafe against these rules. What’s sad is that sometimes parents respond by clamping down even harder, binding their children with rule upon rule to keep them under control. The parents’ intentions are good; they want to keep their children safe from harmful external influences. But they don’t realize that the problem is not something outside of their children but something inside their children’s hearts.

Jesus has just finished lambasting the Pharisees for supplementing God’s law about keeping ceremonially clean with their own man-made rules for washing before eating. He’s told them that when we make our own laws like this, we’re setting ourselves up as moral lawgivers, which is God’s place, not ours. Not only that, but we’re trying to dethrone God by pushing his rules aside to make room for our own. Replacing God’s law with human tradition is an act of insurrection against God. Ironically enough, the usual culprits of this crime are religious people. They think they’re worshiping God by supplementing his law with their own, proving their great dedication to him, but in reality they are hypocrites. They’re actors; they’re worshiping themselves and their tradition rather than God.

Now Jesus delivers the coup de grace. Not only are such legalists replacing God’s law with they’re own, they’re also making a fundamental mistake about the purpose of the law. Jesus gathers a crowd together to hear a short message. “Hear me, all of you, and understand,” he says. “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Now, apparently this “parable” wasn’t clear enough for his disciples, because they approach him afterward to ask about it. Jesus gets a little frustrated here and exclaims, “Then are you also without understanding?” His disciples may not be inventing their own laws like the Pharisees are doing, but they’re still thinking about the purpose of God’s law in the same way as the Pharisees.

Jesus explains that food can’t make a person ceremonially unclean, since it simply passes through the body and is expelled. It doesn’t affect the core of who a person is—the heart. So Mark observes, “Thus he declared all foods clean.” This is very significant, because Jesus isn’t just condemning the Pharisees’ man-made laws. He’s also canceling the ceremonial regulations in the law of Moses that identified many foods as unclean. Jesus is nullifying the law, exactly as the Pharisees just did! How can he not be a hypocrite as well? The only way he can declare that all foods are clean is if he has divine authority, as the Author of the law, to rewrite it. If this comes as a surprise to you, you obviously haven’t been paying attention as we’ve been working our way through Mark’s gospel!

After this, Jesus says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” He lists a litany of wicked attitudes and behaviors—sexual sins, violent sins, sins of speech, sinful habits of thinking. He says that these sins come “from within, out of the heart of man.” And when they do, they defile the person who commits them.

The Pharisees thought that the primary problem was outside of a person. They believed that if you could put him or her in the right environment, free from evil influences, then he or she would turn out a good person. All you need is to separate people from the corrupt Greco-Roman culture. To the Pharisees, the law was a tool to make people holy. And apparently, the disciples bought into that way of thinking, because Jesus’ perspective is completely foreign to them.

We can’t come down too hard on the disciples. From birth, we’re raised to think just like Pharisees. We’re told that people are basically good deep down, and that if children are raised in the right environment and surrounded by the right people and given the right education, then they’ll turn out okay. And of course, these things do help. However, they don’t change the reality that the human heart is a fountain of evil desires. Our culture’s presuppositions are wrong: people are corrupt and depraved, down to the very core of their being. Trying to make people holy by tying them down with rules—even God’s law!—just won’t work. The cancer is within us; it’s genetic, and we can’t cure it. Our own good behavior won’t help. There is no hope.

We’ve seen that Jesus is the only one who knows how to interpret and use God’s law with wisdom. He knows that the law is a reflection of God’s character. It tells us who he is—that he is holy—and it commands us to be like him (Leviticus 19:2). And Jesus knows that this is a lost cause; we can’t do it.

If there’s any possible way to be accepted by God, that way is going to have to be through Jesus. It’s obvious that he is a singular piercing light in a dark and hopeless world. If there’s any way out of our slavery to sin, it will have to come through the gospel—the good news that Jesus brings.

Run, John, run, the law commands,
But gives us neither feet nor hands;
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.
—John Bunyan

Jesus loves the wrong people (Mark 2:13–17)

One of the great joys of the Internet is the ability to access endless reams of useless information, such as an incredible list of Yogi Berra quotes. Of course, some of them are real, and some are fake, so you can’t believe everything you read. As Yogi himself put it, “I didn’t say everything I said.”

If you’re still reading this and haven’t yet fluttered off to Google in search of more Yogiisms, I really appreciate it.

One of the classic Yogi quotes is this gem: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Well, we all know that vague, unsettling feeling that somehow we’ve been here or done this before. That sense of déjà vu is what we should be getting when we read Mark 2:13–17. Here, we find Jesus passing alongside the Sea of Galilee. He sees a man hard at work and tells him, “Follow me.” The man drops what he’s doing and immediately follows Jesus.

Sound familiar? That’s how Jesus called his first disciples, Simon, Andrew, James, and John. When he did it the first time, nobody really minded. Sure, it was a little odd for a rabbi to seek out his followers and not vice versa. And it was a little odd for a rabbi to choose grown men already devoted to a particular line of work. However, nobody seemed too offended by it. Maybe the people of Capernaum were proud that this sensational teacher had hand-picked some of their own to be his followers.

As proud as they were then, they sure must be upset now. This time, Jesus has chosen a man named Levi—a tax collector. Now, in American culture, nobody is really a fan of tax collectors. In fact, a man made headlines recently for crashing a small airplane into an IRS office building in Austin, Texas. Most people, however, won’t get too mad at someone for being an IRS agent.

The difference between American tax collectors in the present day and Jewish tax collectors in the first century was the degree of corruption. Most IRS employees are just doing their job. However, tax collectors in Jesus’ time were well-known for overcharging, for skimming off the top, for essentially running a crime syndicate. Worse yet, they worked for the hated Roman oppressors; most Jews viewed them not only as thieves but as traitors. They were treated as outcasts from Jewish society; anyone who associated with them was considered to be defiled. So naturally, the only companions of a tax collector were prostitutes and other “sinners” who were fellow outcasts. Jesus’ countrymen probably would have loathed tax collectors and their ilk to the same degree that we loathe inner-city gang members.

So, of course, Jesus picks one of these scoundrels to follow him. Then he throws a party and invites all of Levi’s disgusting friends.

The religious teachers, who serve as the conscience of the community, are not happy. They already got ticked off the other day because Jesus claimed to have authority to forgive sins, which is something only God can do. Now, this man—who had seemed so much like the Messiah!—is not behaving like even a respectable Jew ought to behave. Something must be done about this rogue teacher. They corner a few of his disciples and question them, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” You can almost hear the contempt dripping from their mouths. And who can blame them? These sinners are absolutely rotten; they’ve gotten rich by cheating and stealing money from poor villagers, making a lot of people in Capernaum utterly miserable. These are sick people whom Jesus is treating like friends.

Jesus hears that the religious leaders are upset at him. Their attitude bothers him so much that he steps outside the house to confront them. He doesn’t apologize for what he’s doing; and he certainly doesn’t try to convince them that deep down inside, these tax collectors and sinners are basically good people. They aren’t. And that’s the point. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” Jesus explains. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus has come for one group of people: sinners. Broken people. Scum of the earth. If you’re not in that category, then Jesus isn’t really interested in you. If you do fit that description, then Jesus wants you to drop your old way of life, trust him, and follow him. He isn’t ashamed to be seen with you. Your sin is not holding him back from asking you to be with him; it’s the very reason why he’s calling you. Jesus is in the business of rescuing sinners. If you’re a sinner, this is really, really good news.

If you’re not a sinner, then this is really, really offensive news. It means that Jesus doesn’t want to be around you. It means that Jesus isn’t interested in calling you to follow him. It means that Jesus is going to pass you by and call people that disgust you. He will love them, he will throw a party for them, and you’ll be left outside—cynical, bitter, and fuming.

Do you want to know Jesus and understand his love? Open your eyes and see the truth: you are a sinner. You are dirty, rotten, revolting, and sick. Then you’ll see that Jesus has come for you.