Walking The Roman Road – Lenten Season 2019
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18 NIV).
“Men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20 NIV).
“Although they claim to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22 NIV).
Dr. House. Brilliant. Idiot.
Dr. House is an idiot. A brilliant idiot, no doubt, but still an idiot. For some reason we like him. He is fascinating and utterly dedicated to both rationality and reality. No time for games. Except his own.
Of course he isn’t real. That’s not the point. He is all of us and none of us. He is the epitome of human scientific achievement and, at the same time, a personal, relational disaster. He is a train wreck that we can’t take our eyes from. He is the doctor we want when disease threatens but don’t want as a friend, a lover, or even a next door neighbor. He’s too unpredictable, even dangerous. Remember the time he drove his car through the living room window of Cutty’s house during a dinner party he wasn’t invited to? He could have killed someone. We love him and we hate him. His mind is sharp, his sarcasm cutting. Mostly he’s right. He reminds us of ourselves at our best and at our worst.
Take one recent episode for example.
Dr. House is in a psychiatric ward. He’s having hallucinations because of the Vicodin drug he is taking for the pain in his leg. It was starting to affect his work. He checked himself into a psychiatric hospital but realized within a few days that it was a bad idea. Getting out again wasn’t so easy. He has to convince his psychiatrist to let him go.
He decides to get involved in the inmate patient community at the psychiatric hospital and, with his characteristic arrogance, he manipulates everyone around him for his own ends. He begins to make the life of his doctor a living nightmare. But his psychiatrist seems to be up to the challenge and maybe House has met his match. At one point, House begins to change his attitude. At least, so it seems. Thinking that he is doing a good thing for one of the delusional patients, he escapes with him to a nearby fair and spends the day “flying” on an air machine. His new friend thinks that he is a superhero and can really fly. House is helping him to fulfil his dream. On the way back to the car, his delusional friend tries to “fly” off the parking garage building from the third level and almost kills himself.
Now House is in real trouble and is about to be kicked out. For the first time, House begins to realize that he really does need help. His conversation with his psychiatrist, at this point, is revealing.
“So, I’m just supposed to move on with my life?” House says.
“Yes,” says his doctor. “You realize what you’ve done. Ask for forgiveness and move on.” The doctor notices House’ reluctance to accept such an easy answer and he leans forward and says, “Or do you think that because you made someone else suffer, you should suffer the same way?” He pauses. “You can’t play God, House. It doesn’t work that way.”
But you can tell from the look in Houses’ eyes that the idea of justice and equal suffering appeals to him. Whether that’s because he doesn’t believe in simplistic answers or just because he is fighting to maintain some semblance of personal dignity in light of his crass negligence with his delusional patient-friend, the fact of the matter is that House is right. Forgiveness, as proposed by his psychiatrist, is cheap.
It simply isn’t fair. It may be necessary. There may be no other solution, but it definitely isn’t fair. How many times have you seen forgiveness touted in books, movies and conversations as the only real solution to the guilt and shame of real life conflict? Somehow we must forgive each other, or ask for forgiveness, so that we can move on. It’s a practical necessity in an evil and dangerous world. Even if you are the one who was hurt instead of the one doing the hurting, the best psychiatric advice still is: “Stop hating. Forgive. Find something or someone to love.” If only for your own sake and for your own sanity.
But at the end of the day, we aren’t fooled. It can’t be that simple. Practicality and necessity aside, self-interest aside, we know in our hearts that the solution is too simple. It can’t be right even if it is necessary and that is why we can’t forgive ourselves. Maybe we can bring ourselves to forgive others. To let a hurt go. To take the higher road or believe in the nobility of love and forgiveness against all odds. But when it comes to ourselves, we know better. Maybe we are truly sorry, maybe not. Maybe we’ve changed, maybe we’ve learned an important lesson, maybe we will do some special penance, maybe not. Probably not. The truth is that House is right.
What should happen, in the interests of justice, is that we should suffer in the same way and to the same degree as the suffering we inflict on others. That is often called “poetic justice.” The kind of justice where the false accuser finds himself falsely accused, where the one who sets the trap falls into it himself, where the evildoer is caught and the same evil he wanted to inflict on others is inflicted on him. That is poetic justice. And yes, that is true justice but it is also an impossible standard in most cases.
I mean, getting it just right (or even adding a bit just to make sure), getting the right kind of suffering in the right amounts is relatively difficult. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is relatively straight forward and was meant to keep people from killing each other over a small offence out of anger or fear. It was meant as a limit. No more than an eye for an eye and no more than a tooth for a tooth.
Even so, what about the emotional damage? What about the psychological damage, the spiritual damage? Putting Humpty Dumpty back together again is not so easy.
It isn’t long before you realize that for the suffering to be equal, the one you hurt really should be the one to hurt you. At the very least, he should witness your punishment so that his sense of justice can be met. It might even ease his anger and resentment to personally have a shot at you. Perhaps it is best to give in to the feelings of payback and revenge and the driving need for justice before it takes over your entire life and does even more damage, don’t you think?
I know, I know, justice should be impartial and unemotional so that people don’t go overboard and God makes it clear that he is the only one who can and should exact vengeance on our enemies. Still, the need for revenge or payback is based on a deeply rooted need for justice in a world that sees very little of it. House is right. Cheap forgiveness is not enough to satisfy that deep hunger for justice and fairness.
For the victim, we need to find a way to fulfill the demands of justice that he has deep within him. For the offender, we need to find a way to relieve his feelings of guilt and shame. Or not. Many times guilt and shame is missing. It has been rationalized away. It was justified somehow in the dark recess of the offender’s mind. Where is the justice in that?
Even so, even if the offender is brought into the light, his protests falling on deaf ears so that justice, blind and impartial, can have her day, even so, finding that right mixture of suffering and punishment so that it fits the crime in the interests of justice is not so easy. In fact, it might, in the long run, end up destroying both parties. As they say, an eye for an eye just makes two blind men. That may be fair and it might even serve a preventive role in society but it is hardly a good thing to have a world full of blind and toothless people. True justice and absolute fairness would end up destroying us.
In that sense, the psychiatrist is also right. We can’t play God. The State may have a role in representing the justice of God in society but personally, individually, we are not given that authority. It’s too dangerous.
In fact, if we were interested in true justice, we would realize that God places an even greater demand on us. Real justice goes beyond punishment, it goes beyond prevention, it even goes beyond reformation. Real justice is based on the Humpty Dumpty Principle.
It’s not just about fairness. It’s about cleaning up your own mess. You broke it, you put it back together. Not you broke it, you pay for it, like some signs you see in a store. Some things don’t have a price. Most things in life that need forgiveness don’t have a price. If you stole money, you need to give it back, with a premium for the inconvenience. Sure. But real justice demands even more. You must go back in time and make it like it never happened in the first place. If you have killed someone, you must “un-kill” them and bring them back to life.
No, even that is not enough. You must make it so that they were not killed in the first place. A kidnapped child may be returned, the kidnappers may be arrested. Thank God. But the child, and the parents, still suffered the trauma of the event. Real justice, God’s justice, demands that you put it back the way it was before you broke it. Even more, to put it back the way God originally created it. Human beings aren’t some piece of pottery in a store. They are infinitely valuable and you and I have no right to “break” them, or hurt them, or speak evil of them, or manipulate them.
Yes, House, you are guilty and you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You have been acting like God (or maybe more like the Devil), manipulating and hurting the people around you, blundering through life like a bull in a china shop. You assume that you have that right because you are a brilliant doctor. People will forgive you because they need you, because you do so much good for society. Talk about cheap forgiveness. The problem, House, is that you don’t feel guilty enough, you don’t feel enough shame, nor for the right things or for the right reasons.
And we haven’t even talked about God yet. The God you deny. The God you mock since you are a god to yourself. You are also guilty before him, the one to whom you must give an account for your life one day whether you like it or not, whether you believe it or not right now. And he will demand of you real justice. Cheap forgiveness and simplistic answers will not satisfy him and in your heart you know it.
Real justice demands perfection, nothing less and that is the way it should be. Anything less is a farce. Anything less makes God, as Judge, guilty of breaking not just his own law, but more importantly, violating the very nature of justice itself. He must be impartial and absolutely just. He cannot change what we know to be right and good even if the demand is impossible.
If others have the same value that I have as a self-aware, rational and moral being (no double standard allowed), then real justice cannot demand anything less than the perfection of doing to others as I would have them do to me. The standard of care and respect. The standard of love, always and in every situation. Yes, perfection. The perfection of true love.
How are we doing, House? At the very least, it should make us more humble, don’t you think? The demands of real justice to love one another always and in every situation and to fix every violation of that love by making our blunders and crimes like they never happened in the first place. Yes, that is true justice. That is fairness. That is the standard I want God to apply to everyone else, especially in their dealings with me. The problem comes when he applies this standard to me in my dealings with everyone else. Who can stand before God and claim to be innocent?
We might be more inclined to negotiate a quid pro quo with other people, instead of dealing with God. I will forgive you, if you will forgive me. Let’s create our own standard of good intentions and general promises not to do it again. After all, God’s standard is unrealistic in this world.
That may be true but it misses the point. Sure, if you step on my toes and apologize, it’s no big deal. If you meant to do it, that’s another matter altogether and we may come to blows. It’s not just about behavior but about intention and motive. At the same time, it’s all about behavior when we are talking about the things that destroy people’s lives. And there’s lots of it. You should know, House. You thrive on this stuff.
Social conventions aside, we’re talking about evil in the human heart – selfish, blind, amoral evil. The kind of evil that destroys and wants to destroy. Accusations, manipulation, gossip, backbiting, unkind words, thievery, hate, murder. It’s all the same. Different faces of the same evil. Different behavior, different consequences. but the same source.
Or do you think that saying “sorry” to a family after their teenage daughter was raped and killed is enough? Right, you wouldn’t do that. No, House, you have more subtle methods of demonstrating a lack of love for people. You are only concerned with their physical health but lack any consideration for the relational, emotional or psychological needs of the people you work with or the patients you serve. In any event, God is not going to participate in this farce. This quid pro quo approach to forgiveness. This cheap justice that cannot make things right again.
And, if we’re going to talk about God, then we must include the fact that we not only hurt people but we also hurt God who is our (and their) Creator. We are not autonomous beings adrift in a meaningless world. We belong to our loving Father and, as a father myself, I can tell you that if you hurt one of my children, you will definitely raise my anger, even if you are also my child. If you insist on being a god to yourself, if you want nothing more than to be left alone and be accountable to no one but yourself, then, at the end of the day, God will give you what you want but without the natural blessings of His world.
Think about it, House. Where do you think your brilliance comes from? And the sunshine, and the air we breathe, and all of the little things that makes life worthwhile. All the things we take for granted in this world will be taken away from us at the end of the day and we will be left totally and utterly alone. That is hell.
In the interest of your self-interest, you, House, have already started to create your own hell here on earth. God will simply finish what you have started. But don’t think that you’re alone in this. We are all in the same boat. Before God, we are all guilty of gross injustice and cheap forgiveness every day. But there is hope. It is true that forgiveness and, even more, reconciliation, is the answer. But not cheap forgiveness.
The only kind of forgiveness that works, the only kind that matters, the only kind that man and God can both accept in this dangerous and evil world is a forgiveness that is so expensive, so valuable that no one can pay for it. No penance, no sorrow, no transformation or repentance will ever be enough. The demands of real justice cannot be dismissed. They must be fulfilled. Someone must pay the price. Someone must make things right.
That someone was Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, who died on a cross two thousand years ago in the city dump outside of Jerusalem, mocked by religious leaders and scorned by the crowds, abandoned by his own followers, alone, bearing the full weight of God’s anger and punishment on our evil, experiencing the true hell on earth of separation from God and man in pain and misery. In that moment, he was me. He was every sin and injustice and hurt that I ever inflicted on anyone in my life.
Yes, in the interests of suffering, we should suffer the same things that we have inflicted on others and even more, an eternal suffering for our eternal rejection of God, our Creator, an everlasting punishment for the everlasting slap in the face of our Father, who loves us, an utter damnation for the damnable thumbing of our nose at his loving authority and the cutting off of our lives from the Tree of Life, the primal relationship, the ultimate reality and ground of our very existence. What is left except the horror and utter loneliness of an eternity apart from him? That is hell. And he bore it for me.
His suffering and death mattered because of who he was. He wasn’t me but he took my place at that moment. God valued him above all things and his voluntary death and experience of hell for three days on my behalf, is equal, in God’s eyes, to the hell and death that we all deserve, all of us, for all eternity.
So now there is an offer on the table. To allow God to make Jesus my substitute, your substitute, House, or not. He can stand in your place or you can stand in your own place before God at the final judgment. Jesus can save you but, if he does, the result of his salvation is that he becomes your Lord, your Master. I know how you hate to bow the knee to anyone, House. But there is no choice.
You must follow him, House. Do as he does, treat people as he treats people, subject all of your desires and ambitions to him. It is the only way out of this mess. That isn’t cheap forgiveness. Not for you and not for him. It will cost you everything, just as it cost him everything. You will also pay with your life but it is not the payment of a fine or the payment of punishment or suffering. That would be a mockery. You could never pay enough. It is the payment of love. The payment of gratitude.
Have you ever been in love, House? Do you remember that giddy feeling of pure happiness, that strange desire to please the other at any cost, that expectation of joy and the pleasure of beauty? It’s the only thing that makes this world worthwhile. Can love overcome death? Only in the movies, House. Unless you are “in love” with someone more powerful than death. The possibility of love, especially, love for God, our Father and his love for us is what makes it all worthwhile. It’s the only thing that trumps pain and suffering and death. That’s the only payment he wants. Loving obedience rooted in the cross. It’s the only payment he will accept. It’s the only payment you can afford.
It is a new start. A new relationship with God and one another. If the other person that we have hurt is also aware of the real grounds for forgiveness, they will gladly accept the cross as sufficient payment for your evil against him. True reconciliation is the result. True healing and a new beginning. Now you can move on, together, into an evil and dangerous world with the power of forgiveness that can truly put things right even if things are broken and remain broken.
You see, House, in this evil and dangerous world, we will break things and we will be broken. We are guilty and responsible for what we do or fail to do. But because of the forgiveness of the cross, and a life dedicated to following God, we can hold on to the promise that God gives us. “Behold, I make all things new.” Things will get broken but what God does with the pieces can be better than the original. He is the master potter and his artistry and his power is made perfect in brokenness and weakness.
What do you think, House? Have we gone too far a field? Is your natural skepticism returning, your unending mockery of all things religious? Or is there a hint of humility about what you did to your delusional friend? Is there a glimmer of hope for your truly troubled life? Yes, justice is the right answer. No more cheap grace, no more simple answers. Good for you, House. You’re on the right track. So far, so good. But can you stand the heat in the kitchen? Can you do this on your own? Can you put Humpty Dumpty together again like it never happened in the first place or do you need help? That is the question, House. Only the master potter can put the broken pieces of your life into the furnace of His love and re-create your life into something more beautiful and more precious than you can ever imagine.
But He isn’t going to do that without your permission. That is the one gesture he will make. You must want this new life, this powerful forgiveness, this new creation and, if you want it, truly want it, it’s yours. If not, it never was. This terrible, glorious choice is up to you, House. This is not the time for arrogance but rather humility.
What is your decision? Can you even make one? Perhaps its time to get on your knees, bum leg and all, and cry out to God for His most costly gift, which is free, as love is always free but costs you everything. Real forgiveness from a God who loved you, House, enough to hang on a cross in excruciating pain, more pain than your leg ever gave you, House, bleeding profusely, nails driven through his hands and feet, fighting for every breath, the people mocking him, just like you do, House, but most of all, experiencing the abandonment of his Father, the utter desolation of rejection and of being totally forsaken and alone by the one person he loved the most, all of this so that you don’t have to experience that hell for yourself.
If you embrace that love and forgiveness, House, it will change your life. Real, gut level forgiveness for a real, gut level screw-up like you. For once in your life, House, abandon the fantasy of your arrogant rationality and embrace the relational power of divine reality. Embrace real life, real forgiveness and a God that is so real, he can even heal the pain and sting of death. That’s something even you can’t do, House. You can postpone it with your brilliance but you can’t defeat it. Even then, you are not always successful. Perhaps it’s time for you to meet a more brilliant doctor than you. A doctor not only of the body, but, more importantly, of the soul. A doctor greater than you, House, is here.
It’s time to meet Jesus, the Great Physician. Forgiveness and healing are in his hands even if they have sometimes, often-times, eluded yours. And that kind of healing, his kind of healing, makes all the difference in the world. His kind of healing goes beyond pain and suffering and death. His kind of healing is life in abundance.
“Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits
Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
Who satisfies your desires with good things
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
Psalm 103:2-5 (NIV)
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, although I am fascinated by Dr. House, I do not want to be him. Ever. Yet I know that in a lot of ways, I am him and I am ashamed of myself. I have cheapened your justice to suit my needs. I know that you are just and fair to require that things be put back the way they were before I broke it as if it had never happened. I cannot do it. I am guilty before your throne of justice. I appeal to your mercy in the name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord. In his name I pray. Amen.