Bad Luck, Hot Rocks, and Conscience Letters
OCTOBER 29, 2015
I was recently listening to a favorite podcast of mine, no not Steve Brown, Etc., although that is a favorite. In this podcast they were talking about how visitors to national forests often steal petrified wood and bring it home as a souvenir. This is not only illegal but is also said to bring bad luck to those who steal them.
The park rangers would warn against the thievery and tell the visitors that they receive an incredible number of these “hot rocks” back accompanied by letters explaining that since they stole the petrified wood they have had nothing but hard times. There is actually a book and entire website that have these letters and pictures of the petrified wood that has been returned. These “conscience letters” would detail how they performed the criminal act and then all of the subsequent evils that had befallen them.
As I listened to the podcast, I found myself chuckling at these people. I mean really, like a stolen piece of petrified wood is going to cause your cat to have cancer… it just seemed so silly. But the more I listened the more I saw this very same transaction in my Christianity. Let me explain, when I don’t read my Bible in the morning or go days without praying and then something bad happens, like a rock hits my windshield and cracks it, my first thought is to run through the list of things I have been doing wrong to see if the flying rock could be some sort of penalty. As I scroll through the rolodex of punishable offenses I land on “didn’t read Bible or pray” and then I think “There it is, the reason the rock hit my windshield was because I haven’t been faithful.” Cosmic Karma at its worst. My next thought is inevitably “How do I make it up?” How do I send God my “conscience letter” so that the bad things will stop happening to me. This is how most Christians live their lives and it is a dark prison, a cruel taskmaster.
We can never make it up. We can never send just the right apology. There is no amount of penance that I can perform that will satisfy the wrath of God for the sins I have committed. This can leave me feeling all kinds of hopeless when I am trying my hardest to be better and I keep failing. But it only leaves me hopeless when I am depending on my own righteousness to pay for my past wrong doings. The gospel tells me that Christ has already given me a righteousness, one that I don’t deserve, one that I could never earn. This righteousness has made peace between God and I. He is no longer looking for ways to punish me. All of the punishment for my sin has already been taken care of at the cross 2000 years ago.
1 Timothy 1:15-16 puts it this way, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.” So put your pen down, and crumple up your paper. Stop writing your conscience letters, Christ has done it all for you. He loves to display his perfect patience with you. Rest easy. Smile. Relax into the forgiveness and justification that is yours right now.