Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Thee, Thee Only

“Against you, you only, have I sinned.”

Do you have trouble with this verse? I certainly do. Just like I struggle with a lot of hyperbole in scripture.

What? There’s hyperbole in scripture? You mean people said things under the direction of the Holy Spirit of God that weren’t intended to be understood literally?

There certainly is and they certainly did. The Lord himself used this particular figure of speech all the time. “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Hyperbole. Extreme contrast or exaggeration intended to make a spiritual point.

Stop and Think About It

Consider: Tearing out your eye literally will not help you conquer your lust problem, I assure you. Not one bit. Lust starts in the heart. Even a blind man can lust, so tearing out your eye accomplishes nothing other than sticking you with a large hospital bill and creating an unnecessary impediment to your service for Christ and your ability to feed your family. And no, keeping your impulses in check by cutting off body parts will not keep you out of hell either. The Lord did not mean it literally. He meant that personal holiness is not trivial, and that though attaining it may be sacrificially costly, it is well worth the price. Or something close to that, at least.

Consider: Hating your wife will put you in violation of your responsibilities as a husband spelled out very clearly by the apostles and cause you to be a very poor illustration of Christ’s love for the church. The Lord did not mean it literally. If he did, he would be contradicting himself. So he meant that following Jesus is so important that no earthly love must be allowed to impede, constrain or restrict it. All relationships must be cast aside to the extent they set themselves in opposition to devotion to Christ. Or something close to that, at least.

Consider: A camel cannot go through the eye of a needle, so no rich people are ever saved. Does that make sense? Why then does Paul give instructions to Timothy about the conduct of rich Christians? Because the Lord Jesus didn’t mean it literally. He meant that affluence blinds people to the truth of God, and their salvation is rare because they do not see their need. Absent the personal involvement of a loving God, no rich person would ever turn to him. But he didn’t mean it never happens: “All things are possible with God.” So carry on praying for that rich person you know, and when they finally turn to the Lord, recognize how shocking and delightful an event their salvation is.

All these statements were hyperbolic. They were outrageous statements meant to make a spiritual point, and they do the job very well. You wouldn’t remember them if they didn’t jar.

I think David is doing something similar in the Psalms with the phrase “Against you, you only.”

Sins Against Others

The Bible talks repeatedly about sins against not just God, but other people. Reuben talked about it. Eli talked about it. Jonathan talked about it. David himself talked about it more than once. Solomon prayed about it. Peter talked about it and the Lord didn’t correct him. Paul wrote about it carried along by the Holy Spirit of God.

Were they all wrong? I don’t think we ought to go there.

So then, the Holy Spirit speaks concerning sins against individuals. Was David’s sin “only” against God? Hmm. David sinned against Bathsheba. He sinned against Uriah. He sinned against the messengers he sent to bring Bathsheba to him and the servants who hushed it up around the palace, soiling them with complicity in his grimy deeds. He sinned against Bathsheba’s child, causing its death. He sinned against Joab, the commander of his army, by making him an accomplice to the murder of his own soldiers. Our own Bernie recently pointed out that David sinned egregiously against the families of the men who fell alongside Uriah. Those poor soldiers were deliberately left to die, abandoned by their own general for the crime of serving where the fighting was hardest. Their wives and children never knew why they died. Perhaps their relatives even blamed God for the loss of a loved one and for the poverty and privation that likely followed his premature passing. It’s trivial, but David also sinned against Joab by publicly chastising him for following the king’s orders when he knew full well he had fabricated the entire scenario to cover his crime.

Technically, David is not being 100% accurate here. Sin is not “against thee and thee only”, as the KJV puts it. Sin hurts a whole bunch of people, most of whom we don’t know and never think about.

Hyperbole with a Point

So what point is so important that David feels compelled to make it by saying something so inaccurate when interpreted in a strictly literal sense? Only this: that first, foremost and fundamentally, every sin is against God, against his throne, against his righteous standards, an insult to and an assault on his holy person and his righteous rule. To think of sin only or even primarily as against individuals is to miss the most important reason sin is wrong in the first place.

When you take God out of the picture, you remove every possible logical incentive for righteous behavior. After all, in a universe without God, who cares what I do to the Uriahs and Bathshebas around me? Who cares if I deprive widows of husbands or children of their fathers? Who cares if I involve other people in my conspiracies, knowingly or unknowingly? And especially, who cares if I defame other people and bring their reputation for competence into disrepute?

Nobody, that’s who. All claims for justice fall on deaf ears in a universe without a God who hates sin and sets the standards, and a God who wields sufficient power to enforce his judgments on the sinner. Uriah, Bathsheba and all the rest only have claims against David because God says they do and because God cared how David behaved; because there exists a heavenly court to which the oppressed and ill-used are invited to appeal. But take God out of the picture and every complaint about injustice in the world becomes arbitrary and utterly unenforceable. Might makes right, and David had it.

A Universe Without God

In this sense, every sin is against “thee, thee only”. Without a “thee” on the throne in heaven, there is no reason to think about sin at all, and certainly no reason to repent of it, especially if it gets you where you want to go.

That’s one reason there is no point arguing with atheistic or agnostic progressives about their flagrant inconsistency, hypocrisy, violence, envy, lying and cheating. They don’t acknowledge God’s existence or standards, so they have no concept of the possibility of heavenly payback. In their view, there is no “thee” to fear and no reason to do anything other than what they please at every moment.

A universe without God is a hell of a place to live. And that one I do mean literally.

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