In the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou,” George Clooney, who use to be much better looking, is driving away from the scene of a river baptism with his two fellow escaped convicts in the car with him. One of them had taken the plunge himself and was singing with joy about his new found freedom.
George rolls his eyes, looks up in the rearview mirror, and says, “You’re dumber than a bag of hammers! Just because you found the Lord, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook with the law!”
I use the line about the hammers at least three times a year.
George was right. Even on your death bed, the trail of brokenness you leave behind will go on. Your life has a ripple effect. Sorry … just keeping it real.
Henry Drummond refers to this uncomfortable reality as “the stain of sin.” It’s not really for the Pollyanna types, or the types that prefer to remain in denial about their own bad actions and failures and think that Jesus is the reason they can do anything they want and they’ll be forgiven, and so all is well. Yes, they are forgiven (if they’re a true believer). But not all is well. Not at all. Keyword: ALL. Much is well with enormous upside for ongoing improvements. But not ALL.
And of course, there are the types like me who are in a perpetual state of bargaining with the Almighty about how much of my heavenly character will be compromised if I choose to avoid the things about relationships that promise to devastate my already annihilated heart. Believe me, I’ve stretched the phrase “as far as it depends on you” to the point of teetering on the edge of hysterical rationalization.
What is the stain of sin?
The stain of sin is what’s left in another’s life by your stupid choices, words, angry intentions, and brokenness. It’s the picture of Pig Pen in Peanuts, walking around leaving a layer of odorous dust upon everyone he passes by. And they can’t get it off of them. They have to live with it the rest of their lives.
Unless you’re not the kind of person that looks at Jesus as a get-out-of-perpetual darkness-free card without any expiration date or limitation on the number of uses. I had a colleague that thought this way. Imagine my moment of horrified realization when he said, “This is why Christianity is so popular,” as he was telling me, without any sign of shame, about his latest conquest involving infidelity. Sidenote: People, some complete strangers, have a need to spill their guts to me. I don’t know why.
So, assuming you’re not that person, you may want to know if there’s anything you can do about the stains. It’s not easy. You can’t just go to Target and get a bottle of Shout! (Do they still make that?).
Before I give you the answer, we have to talk about eternity and relationships. First of all, whether you like it or not, you are becoming who you will be for eternity. Blame Dallas Willard for that observation. It’s true. There’s no reset button.
Second, there’s only one thing you take with you into eternity.
And what exactly is a relationship?
It’s not a person. It’s what exists between people. You can’t see it, but it can define you, bring out your best, bring out your worst, prompt you to creative curiosity or to nihilistic despair, and it can wound you. Deeply. Break your heart, change you in ways you won’t be able to control. It will also water the garden of your own beautiful spirit, bringing out hope and love and possibilities otherwise never discovered if not for that relationship.
No, we’re not robots. We never will be. Those who want to become robots fail to recognize the infinite depth of what it means to be human. Being human is magical and mysterious and absolutely enthralling. And it’s most obvious within the context of life-giving relationships. As Jack Nicholson told Helen Hunt, we can make each other a better person.
And the opposite is true as well. Unfortunately.
When I read Drummond’s essay again, I’ve lost count of how many times, I started seeing the faces of the people whose lives my selfish sins have left a stain upon. And I also saw the faces of the people whose lives have left their marks on me. And then the way I responded, hurting them in return for their insult, most of the time by simply moving on, erasing them from my life, never to heal the wounds. I painted them as utterly hopeless; there was no chance they would be interested in trying to mend the relationship. I told myself my actions were a form of standing up for myself.
Maybe I should be content that most of the insults were minor slights that people don’t mean for harm in the course of a stressful work day. But not all. There are the few that are prominent, coming to mind too often during the course of a week, particularly if it has been years since the person involved has been seen or heard from.
So, what does Drummond say?
He says, and I paraphrase, get off your death bed and go find the lives upon which you’ve left a stain. Make things right.
And when you do that, you will be changed in a very good way. And you will be better for eternity than you would be without having made the effort. Your time in heaven, which is forever, will be richer for it.
Not to mention the rest of your time here.
Remember, relationships are all we bring with us into eternity. Consider the courage it will take to enter into His presence whole … I am. And it scares me, but don’t delay. What is the rest of your life here, anyway?
- “A tale that is told” (Psalm 90:9)
- “A sleep” (see, for example, Psalm 90:5)
- A “pilgrimage” (Genesis 47:9)
- “A vapour” (James 4:14)
- A swift “post,” or runner (see Job 9:25)
- “A shadow” (see, for example, 1 Chronicles 29:15)
- A swift ship (see Job 9:26)
- “A flower” (Job 14:2)
- “An handbreadth” (Psalm 39:5)
- “A weaver’s shuttle” (Job 7:6)
- A shepherd’s tent removed (see Isaiah 38:12)
- “Water spilt on the ground” (2 Samuel 14:14)
- A thread cut by a weaver (see Isaiah 38:12)
- “Grass” (see Psalm 90:5–6)
- “A wind” (Psalm 78:39)
- “A dream” (Job 20:8)
- “Nothing” (see, for example, Psalm 39:5)
One last thing. If you can’t go and make things right, like me with my now passed father, Jesus fills the gap. Most importantly, He desires the changes in my heart toward my father that would have occurred if things had been mended before he passed. Honestly, my father was the one who left the stain on me. And then I threw some of it back.
Once I’ve cleared the pearly gates, there will be discussions.
 Drummond, Henry. Ideal Life, The: Listening For God’s Voice, Discerning His Leading . Whitaker House. Kindle Edition.