Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Christian, the other Lance Armstrong. The Christian prayed, ''Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like other men--murderers, thieves, adulterers, or even like that doping liar, Lance Armstrong. I pray once a week; go to church most Sundays; listen if the sermon is entertaining; and give a generous 1% of my income to the church. Yes, sometimes I screw up a little and sin, but, let’s be real: I'm nothing like that hypocritical, lying, doping public winner of the Tour de Iniquity over there. Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.'' But Lance, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, for he thought, “If that Christian’s god is as big an asshole as he is, why the hell bother?” I tell you, neither man went down to his house justified. Lucifer loves Lance, though not for the reason you might expect. Armstrong has become a “public sinner.” And as such, he is a prime tool in Hell's ongoing quest to render us even greater hypocrites than we already are.
Most Christians, indeed most religious people, are not much different from the non-religious in how they understand how “good” they themselves are. Quite simply, the standard by which this is determined is how they compare with other people. I am a “good person” if my behavior is in step with those whom I deem “good people” amongst my family, friends, peers, or even individuals of fame. If the opposite is true, then I must be stepping outside the bounds of acceptable behavior. And when that happens, when I think of myself as having done something “wrong” or “bad,” what then do I do? Where then do I turn?
I turn to Lance. Or I turn to Lance’s countless predecessors in the Hall of Infamy—whether that dubious honor be earned in sports, politics, or the church. As I compare myself with those whose wrongdoings have been magnified by media coverage, these larger-than-life sinners salve my conscience. After all, the reasoning goes, I may have screwed up, but I didn’t screw up anywhere near as much, or as often, or as publicly as they did. Sure I lied, but not to reporters and fans and race officials for years on end. Sure I cheated, but not to win an international sporting competition time and again. Sure I sinned with my body, but it’s not like I injected performance enhancing drugs into my veins. I may have messed up, but I’m no Lance Armstrong.
So long as the standard by which we measure ourselves is other people, there are no boundaries to the imaginative methods we will employ to feel better about ourselves. There’s always a “worse” sinner around, who’s out-lied, out-cheated, out-hypocritized us—or, at least, whom we think has. Ironically, when we justify ourselves like this, we are those who become the worst of all, for not only do we ignore and downplay our own weaknesses and failures; we do so while standing and stomping on the necks of other sinners.
The standard by which we ought to determine whether we are living as God would have us live is not another person. It is God. We are his children, called to imitate him, so that we might bear his image in this world, and incarnate that image in how we live. To be as he is, is to live a life of love for all, especially for our enemies. To die to selfishness and to live for the other; to discover our greatest delight in showing compassion; to think and speak and act as those who emulate the God who was willing to give everything, including his Son, that we might live.
Try measuring yourself to that standard. Not to Lance. Not anyone else “better” or “worse” than you are.
The man who has lived up that standard—the only man who has—is Jesus of Nazareth. He teaches much about the need to forgive others, even forgiving them seventy times seven, if they’re that adept and resolute at sinning. But very often the most unforgiving people in the world are the religious types who are blind to their own failings, but have 20/20 vision when it comes to finding faults in others. And there’s nary a pew, or a pulpit, in Christendom that doesn’t have one or more of these Pharisees in it.
As for me, I don’t care one iota what Lance did or didn’t do. I have more important concerns. For I’m certain that Lance can out-ride and out-run and out-swim me, but you set up a race in which the best sinner wins, and I’ll leave his ass in the dust.