Early in Richard Attenborough’s Academy Award Winning film, Gandhi, young Gandhi, reading Jesus Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount” asks a young South African if he believes in hell.
Later in the movie, just before his assassination, the Mahatma quips, “We are all such sinners, it is up to God to say who goes to heaven, and who goes to hell.”
A lifetime later, Gandhi stopped being intellectual about this subject and came straight from the heart. He had personally led India to freedom and brought down the entire British Empire in the process. Gandhi had seen the best and the worst of both the British, and his own people. Gandhi knew that being a saint or a sinner was relative. It is not for us to judge. Only God.
Sin in the original Greek New Testament literally means missing the mark in a game of archery. You don’t hit bull’s eye. Sometimes you miss the target altogether. You basically fail to meet your standards and those of other people. In other words - you blow it.
Sin came to mean many other things, including trespassing, violating someone else’s space, being a debtor, owing other people what you can’t possibly repay.
Fundamental is the idea of a sin against love… either by an act of commission, meaning you do something intentionally or otherwise that hurts someone, or omission, meaning you fail to do something that might prevent someone else from getting hurt.
Theology went on to recognize that all “sins” are ultimately against God, Himself. Therefore, to receive forgiveness, you needed, not only to make restitution to the one you offended, but also to seek God’s pardon. This is the rationale for the Catholic confession to the priest.
If you have made mistakes, failed and deeply hurt someone you love, welcome to the crowd. You are not alone.
I have certainly blown it many times in my life, being totally selfish, domineering, stupid, greedy and inconsiderate. It could be anything… from cutting in on someone in traffic to making it necessary for a young lady to have an abortion.
What you will discover when you get just under the surface of a whole group of people, perhaps in a transformational seminar, such as the Landmark Forum, is that everyone else there has repeatedly made mistakes, failed, disappointed themselves and others. People are injured. Health is destroyed. Marriages are wrecked. Careers are ruined. Take your pick.
We only learn by making mistakes.
Sometimes it takes us hundreds of times before we really get it and let go of destructive patterns. You will find that even the most upstanding people, even very religious people, have deeply messed up in their personal lives, to the point where they had to go out and seek forgiveness from others.
The irony is that you will find that it is OK to be “bad.” When you realize that being “bad” is not BAD, you breathe a sight of relief, loosen up and become a much better person.
The inner truth is that we all have an angel and a devil deep within us. Charles Baudelaire, the great symbolist French poet wrote, “Any man worthy of the name has a yellow serpent within his heart who, when he says, ‘Yes,’ says ‘No.’”
The spirit of rebellion resides in everyone of us. The ultimate vision of this is not hell, but Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, where the world conquerer dreams of throwing God out of His heaven.
The devil is our shadow, which really can hurt people.
It is the unassimilated part of us, which has not been fully accepted, such that we feel compelled to act it out. You look it in the face every morning when you shave or put on your makeup.
The angel is our innermost being, which is pure love. It is the original innocence of our divine nature as children of God.
As a preacher in my youth put it, “There is so much of the worst of us in the best of us, and the best in the worst of us.”
When you closely study the New Testament, especially the Gospel accounts, you will be shocked to discover that Jesus had no issue whatsoever with sinners.
He was accused of hanging out with tax collectors, prostitutes and drunkards. Jesus was an avid partygoer and clearly loved a good time. No doubt, Jesus laughed a lot. However, this is a point not easy to convey in a sacred tradition with multiple translations lasting 2,000 years.
What Jesus DID have a problem with was the Pharisees, the superpious legalists of his time with a tedious list of rights and wrongs.
Orthodox Jewish law has over 600 commandments. Many religious people were excessively rigorous and literal about them all, having lost touch with their basic humanity. Jesus called them “white-washed tombs” and “the blind leading the blind.”
It is necessary to fumble around as we mature as spiritual beings. However, it is counterproductive and ultimately self-defeating to pretend that we can do no wrong. This pretense is our social mask, the most superficial part of us.
Most of all, Jesus went out of his way to remind people that judgment was not our task, only forgiveness. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded us that when we judge others, we judge ourselves, because the very same standards that apply to them will also be applied to us.
Neale Donald Walsch put it succinctly in his recent book, God’s Message to the World: You’ve Got Me All Wrong!. God was never in the business of keeping points so that He could clobber you when you messed up one time too many. That is a very childish conception of God inappropriate for adults.
The Abrahamic Tradition (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) is 4,000 or more years old. It offers a progressive revelation of God. At first, the living God is disclosed in strictly tribal terms, concerned with actual, physical survival, and helping the ancient patriarch’s descendants to thrive. Only with the later prophets, such as Isaiah, was God shown to have a global focus, deeply concerned with nations other than Israel.
Jesus Christ is the most revolutionary prophet the world has ever known. No one before Him was willing to declare that God is Love, that God love’s us even more than a bridegroom for a bride, that God’s love has no boundaries and applies equally for everyone.
Islam took this line of reasoning a step further, highlighting the universal nature of God, that God is “closer to us than our jugular vein.” All we need do is surrender to His perfect will. We are to worship only God, because God is literally All There Is.
Late in the film, Gandhi, we see the Mahatma carrying out a “fast unto death” in the city of Calcutta, which, at that time, was totally torn apart by hatred, rioting and mass bloodshed.
A Hindu man on the street comes up to the terrace of the house where Gandhi is staying with a sword and a piece of bread. The man drops his sword, throws the bread at Gandhi and tells him to EAT. “I am going to hell, but I don’t want to have your death on my soul.”
Gandhi asks the Hindu why he is going to hell. The Hindu reveals that he has killed a little Muslim boy. Gandhi asks, “Why?” The man blurts out weeping, “They killed my son, my only son. The Muslims killed him!”
Gandhi then, in a moment of supreme inspiration, counsels the desperate man, “I know a way out of hell…. Find a Muslim boy, a little orphan only so high. And when you have found him, take him as your son. Only raise him, not as a Hindu, but as a Muslim.”
From a Christian standpoint, God loves you as you are.
He refuses to see you as a sinner, only as a saint. The death of His Son on the cross was universal, burning up all karma, covering everyone for all of time. Jesus died for us, not because we are filthy, miserable sinners, but because we are inherently divine, infinitely precious in His sight.
Watch the video below - titled “A Saint Is A Sinner Who Never Gave Up” - it might clear things up for you even more.
Whatever your religious outlook, know that Infinite Intelligence, that Higher Power loves you absolutely.
Your sins ARE forgiven, from eternity past to eternity future. God is stronger and smarter than you. He is foolish enough to truly believe in you. Why don’t you return the favor, starting today?