Just when we thought that the horror movie of 2020 was over, 2021 began with scenes of rioters storming the Capitol building in America. Trump supporters, seemingly encouraged by the President’s own words, infiltrated and looted what is considered the powerhouse of American politics. From what we saw here on the news, this was not a peaceful protest – it was all out anarchy.
Then the press reported that two of Trump’s closest legal aids advised him (one before resigning his position) that he was not legally able to offer himself a “presidential pardon” for any involvement in inciting the acts of violence that we saw.
The “Presidential pardon” is a long standing American tradition, but despite Trump’s twitter claim that he has: “the absolute right to pardon myself”, there are legal barriers in place to a sitting president being able to self-pardon. This is for obvious reasons; when it comes to ourselves, none of us are impartial enough to be able to act as judge and jury for our own behavior. And yet… all of us do precisely that.
It is so often far easier to call out the mistakes in others, and much more comforting to find bigger examples of other people’s mistakes than honestly face up to our own. Trump didn’t invent the problem of the “self-pardon”, the truth is that it runs very deep in our very nature.
The very first temptation faced back in Eden was to “eat from the fruit of tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” – despite all of those Sunday School cartoon images we all have in our minds, it wasn’t a shiny apple that caused the fall from grace – it was the ability to know right from wrong. The temptation to cut God out of the equation when it comes to our morality, to define “good” and “bad” in our own terms without any recourse to our Creator.
It torn a division so deep in our relationship with God that Paradise was lost, and only the sacrificial death of God’s only Son could bridge the divide back to that intimacy and freedom for which we were created.
There’s a line in a theme song to a James Bond film:
And if you think you’ve won you never saw me change
The game that we’ve all been playing
You Know My Name (Chris Cornell)
It’s always tempting, when we’ve crossed a line, simply to claim that we never knew the line was there or to move that line further and further back; changing the game, playing by our own rules, defining our own morality. Presidents or not, we can all be guilty of this – what sounds to us like “an explanation” sounds to others more like “excuses”… we offer ourselves this dangerous “self-pardon” so instinctively we don’t even notice we’re doing it.
There’s a phrase that runs right through the book of Judges:
“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
The result was chaos and carnage – and was the very reason why the Lord appointed “Judges” in the first place.
The trouble is that “in my own eyes” my choices are understandable, it so often takes another perspective to see what I can’t from the viewpoint inside my own head. This is why the scriptures are so powerful, in one letter James likens the Word of God to a mirror:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at their face in a mirror and, after looking at themselves, goes away and immediately forgets what they looks like.”
If we use the Bible wrongly, James warns us we can actually “deceive ourselves” – just being hearers is not enough, the Bible needs to become a mirror to our “doing” until we become “doers” of the Word, our lives a reflection of God’s goodness and grace. That way our perspective is not just doing “what feels right to us” but what God had shown us is right.
Likewise, having a group of people around us who love us and love the Word can help to get us out of our own heads and give us a wider perspective:
If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.
1 JOHN 1.6-7
Pardon is possible – (even from all sin, as John points out there) but it must come from outside of ourselves. See reading the Bible is not meant to depress us – but to diagnose us… the very same the scriptures that point out what’s wrong with us also point us to the cure: the blood of Jesus!
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1 JOHN 1.8-9
Please note that the word “all” is used there again to describe just how far the purification goes!
Much more powerful than our “self-pardoning” ways, is the “Christ-purifying” we can receive when we come to Jesus in honesty, humility and repentance. He bought that forgiveness for us when He died on the cross – punished for our wrong doing so that we wouldn’t have to be. Now He waits with open arms and nail pierced hands to cleanse us afresh – in ways that our self-justifying simply never can.
If you’d like to know more about the Bible, check out the info about our upcoming Online Bible Course: you can check it out here: bethelcardiff.org.uk/thebiblecourse, or if you’re missing that “walking in the light” fellowship and would like to explore being part of an online small group, please do get in touch and we would love to connect you!
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