I doubt that you missed the story. It was all over international news about 2 months ago. A young woman was traveling back home from the cinema when she was attacked by five men on a bus. The five men beat up her male companion and proceeded to brutally rape the woman, leaving her for dead. Despite the doctors’ best attempts to save her life, the 23-year-old physiotherapy student later succumbed to the horrific injuries sustained during the assault. It is a sad and horrific story. But not as horrific as what the lawyer representing her attackers said in their defense.
Manohar Lal Sharma, the lawyer representing three of the accused men, argued that the woman and her male counterpart were fully to blame for what happened to them. His argument was that the victim was not a “respectable lady”. He explained that the victim’s friend and male counterpart, Mr Pandey, was “wholly responsible for the incident as the unmarried couple should not have been on the streets at night.” At first glance, such an argument may sound quite unreasonable. But similar arguments are not uncommon in many rape cases, “the woman was dressed provocatively” is a common one. It is true that such cases are too emotive to give any room for reason, and the lawyer’s defense may seem unreasonable at first. But before we pick up the stones and take shots at lawyers, we need to confront another more familiar lawyer.
OUR INNER LAWYER
Our inner lawyer is very much like Mr Pandey, he is very reasonable. Have you ever noticed how almost EVERY sin you’ve ever committed has an explanation? It is never entirely your fault. There are always contributing factors. Either someone compelled you to sin, or the system pushed you to the limit, or the peer pressure, or the culture…. there’s always an explanation. Deterministic forces are very real when it comes to our sinful choices. Even when we are admitting guilt, it is never a 100% percent ownership. How many times have you found yourself providing a brief “explanatory” prologue to your sinful actions when confessing to someone? “I know that what I did (stealing) was wrong, and I am not trying to excuse my actions, but I was hungry.” You can think of your own examples. We always have an explanation. D. A. Carson equates this self-justification to idolatry:
“One of the inevitable results of guilt and shame is self-justification. Adam justifies himself by blaming Eve; Eve justifies herself by blaming the serpent. Our only hope of being reconciled to God, however, is for God to justify us, for God to vindicate us. Self-justification cannot cut it, for we are guilty; in fact, self-justification is merely one more evidence of idolatry – the idolatry of thinking we have the resources to save ourselves, the idolatry that is still so impressed by self that it cannot readily admit guilt.”
EVERY SIN HAS A STORY
Every rapist, murderer, thief, child molester… has a story. A compelling story. It may be a political, sociological or biological explanation, but it exists. We always try to justify our sins. We are never 100% to blame. This has always been the case, from the first man and woman. Remember Adam and Eve’s responses to God after they sinned? Adam: “It is Eve, she gave me the fruit.” Eve: “It’s the Serpent, [he] tricked me.” (Genesis 3:11-13) We are always passing on the blame. Sometimes the explanations for our sinful tendencies are compelling. Consider those who struggle with homosexual urges. For some of them, it’s much deeper than culture or sociology, it is biology. How do you resist that? And what’s even worse, how do you take the blame for that? Why should you take the blame for that?
The Bible provides an answer. In the case of Adam and Eve, God did not just punish the Serpent, He also punished Adam and Eve. If this seems unfair, it’s probably because we have misunderstood the nature of sin. Adam and Eve’s story tells us an important fact about sin. We do not sin when we are tempted, we sin when we give into temptation. We do not sin by hearing or seeing what is forbidden, we sin when we desire and then act on what is forbidden. James outlines this for us “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” [James 1:14-15] Jesus Himself confirms that “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.” [Mark 7:15]
As you can see, sin is 100% internal, irrespective of any external temptations, suggestions and explanations. Not sociology. Not biology. When we steal because we are hungry, we have not sinned because we were hungry, we have sinned because it is against God’s law to steal. When I look at a woman lustfully because she is scantily dressed, I have not sinned because of her [lack of] dress, I have sinned because I have looked at her lustfully. Am I then saying that external influences are totally not to blame? No, I am saying that external influences are differently to blame. In the Genesis account, it wasn’t just Adam and Eve who were punished, the Serpent also received a curse, a much worse curse that had no sign of hope.
A similar curse is severally spoken over those who “cause” others to sin. Consider these verses:
“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” [Matthew 18:7]
“And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” [Luke 17:1-2]
So, yes, there are things that cause people to sin, but these are dealt with in a different category. Their sin or “evilness” is not bound up with the sins of those whom they influence. God deals with each sinner separately and treats each as if he or she is 100% responsible for the sin. No excuses and no exceptions.
WHAT, THEN IS SIN?
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” [Romans 1:18-23]
So, who is to blame for my sins? I AM (I mean “me” not God, silly … I am yet to get to the part where I blame God). From the few verses in Romans above, we can glean that: Sin is God’s plain truth being suppressed. Sin is God’s law not being obeyed. Sin is God’s clearly discernible qualities in creation being ignored. Sin is God’s Godness not glorified. Sin is God’s goodness not appreciated. Sin is finding wisdom in created things rather than the creator. We are sinners because we do these things. We are not sinners because someone or something else makes us do these things. Furthermore, ANY PERSON OR ANYTHING THAT MAKES US SIN IS NOT TO BLAME FOR “OUR” SIN, HE OR IT IS ONLY TO BLAME FOR THAT SIN OF “INFLUENCING” US. What we do after being tempted is totally our fault.
In the rape case that I mentioned, the lawyer was trying to “justify” the accused men’s sin by blaming the victims. On a horizontal level, that’s called rationalization. It’s the best he could do. But what the lawyer could never do, even if he ended up winning the case, is justify the men before God. You see, the men’s sin before God was in their actions, irrespective of their temptations. The men’s sin before God was that they broke God’s law, not the law of India. And God’s law says that every man and woman is precious, made in the image of God Himself, and to defile and kill a human being is a sin before God, a sin that deserves nothing short of a hangman’s noose – whether or not the victim “deserved” it. The external factors could only be used to justify the men’s actions before other men, but there was no justification for what they did before God. Because what they did before God was purely, 100% internal, and there was no excuse or explanation within them.
Only one excuse could vindicate them before God, only one explanation could justify what they did, and this explanation had to come from outside them. Jesus Christ came and took the place of such men, men like me, bearing the guilt and punishment of our sin upon Himself. He died so that we didn’t have to. He paid the price that we couldn’t afford to. No, Jesus did not erase, wipe, reverse our sin. Jesus did not put a hood on God’s face so that He could no longer see our sin. Jesus literally TOOK THE PUNISHMENT for our sin.
HE TOOK THE BLAME!
He was punished in our stead. We are not justified because He explained away our sins, we are justified because He experienced the price of our sin. He bore the cost. He volunteered. He said, “take me”, “kill me instead of them”, “declare them innocent by finding me guilty.” This is true justification. And only those who believe that Jesus accomplished it can experience the freedom that He purchased with His blood.
Unbelievable? You better believe it. Your life depends on it.