I’ve had my non-Christian friends tell me that the Doctrine of Original Sin is a myth. We’re capable of good on our own. I just can’t buy it. I think people are only capable of good because some of God has rubbed off on them. I mostly make a mess of that, but maybe there is just enough good left over that I don’t manage to completely destroy everything around me. Every once in a while I get lulled into believing I really am a good person, but God reminds me this isn’t the case.
Yesterday I was running a half-marathon. This is 13.1 miles of putting one foot in front of the other. It’s fairly painful. Less than 1% of people in the US will ever finish a half-marathon, so I think it is a significant challenge both mentally and physically. Apparently some people still take it up a notch though. On about mile two I was passed by a gentleman wearing an orange and white worldvision.com shirt that said “13.1 for Africa”. Clearly some sort of fund-raising goal. This fellow was pushing a stroller. Now, I’ve seen people out running with their kids in strollers, and I have a lot of respect for that brand of madness, but this was different. This was a large stroller, and this guy was pushing a fully grown, maybe 20 year old man, who apparently had muscular dystrophy or some other type of degenerative muscle disease. Like I said, running 13.1 miles is difficult, but I can only imagine adding an additional 175 lbs or so, especially when it comes to climbing hills.
This ambitious fellow stayed at a slightly faster pace than me for a good deal of the way, but at about mile 9 there was a short but steep hill. I noticed this was visibly painful for him as I passed by. I had the sudden urge to help him up the hill, but I ignored it. I was on a pace that had the potential to be a personal best time for a half marathon, and it has been a few years now since I have bested any of my own times. I think I’m getting old. Anyway, as I passed by, ignoring the appeal from my soul to offer help to this guy, I then immediately felt disgrace. I had no cause for this though, I knew that this guy knew what he was getting into when he signed up. Every participant signed the waiver. Why the guilt then? This is the sort of situation where my mind starts to spin.
You’ll likely never find me claiming, “God told me…” Quite honestly, God has never spoken to me in a way that I’d be convinced for sure it wasn’t just my own mind. Maybe it’s God, maybe it’s me, maybe it’s some combination. I don’t think I’d ever emphatically claim it were God, because it scares me to think I might be labeled as a false prophet by the creator of the universe, but I don’t think it is really necessary anyway. If God has spoken via inspired scripture, then I can already know His opinion on these things. I’m forced to take everything, try to discern whether it has any basis in scripture, and then willfully decide whether to act on it or not. Maybe this is God’s sense of humor as a result of my generally subscribing to the concept of libertarian free will rather than some sort of Calvinism or compatiblism. In any case, I thought maybe it was God’s intention that I should offer this fellow some help, but I rejected the suggestion because it would slow me down.
Initially the remorse of the decision led me to be irritated with God. Why after all, if he’s all-powerful, should he not be able to be more clear? This is the wrong question though. The real question is not why is He not able, because a omnimpotent God would have no trouble getting through clearly if He wanted to. The real question is why does He not choose to be more clear. I think it’s generally because He wants us to make the choice. He’s willing to give me a hint that I ought to do a thing, but as a free moral agent, He doesn’t want to have to tell me what to do. He would have been perfectly capable of creating robots after all, but that isn’t what He wanted.
After rolling it over for about 1.5 miles weighing what I know about God, the Bible, running, other people, and myself, I decided I’d messed up. How? John 13:34-35 came to mind. Shortly before being arrested by the Romans, Jesus gave his disciples a new command to love one another in the way that he loved them, and by doing so, other people would know they were his disciples. To love like Jesus seems impossible to me, but what I do know is it involves a great deal of sacrifice, and I’m worried about a minute or two added to my half-marathon time? I decided if I couldn’t sacrifice some stupid race time for this poor guy struggling in pain for a noble cause, clearly loving sacrificially himself, then I certainly wasn’t loving anywhere close to the way Jesus commanded his disciples to love.
I knew at about mile 11 there was a much more significant hill, so I slowed my pace enough that hopefully the worldvision.com guy wouldn’t be too far behind. When I hit the bottom of the hill, I stopped and waited about 30 seconds for him to catch up, then I said to him, “Can you accept help, man?” “No,” he said, “I have to do it on my own.” “So you can’t take any help up this hill?” I said. “Nope.” At this point I realized I’d waited and worried about giving this guy help for nothing, but I slapped him on the back and said, “You’re doing a great job, man!” What I got back was the most sincere, “Thank you soooo much!” that I think I’ve ever heard anybody exclaim, like he’d just been waiting for somebody to tell him that. Perhaps it wasn’t for nothing after all.
Was it God’s direct intention that I give the worldvision.com guy that encouragement? I don’t know. Was it Biblical? Absolutely. So, do I care whose idea it was? Not really. All I know is that I chose a clear Jesus approved option, and corrected an error in my own character on the fly based on the already clear direction to love one another sacrificially. God has already spoken (Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21), all we need to do is listen. We can wait around to for him to speak clearly to us again before we take decisive action, but as for me, I know I hate having to repeat myself to my children.
I finished in 1:49:54, about 2 minutes off of my best half-marathon time.