Updated: Jan 21
I have been known to use this rather unsavory score card, a checklist of my own misguided imagination, supplemented by various sources. This assessment is informed by my own life experiences, personal prejudice, strengths and weakness, unapologetic pet peeves, and assorted texts, including the Bible, subject to my own special (and alternatingly self-serving, heavily biased and self-immolating) interpretation. Breathe. It is not an actual sheet of paper, Google Doc, or handy app. I carry it in my head and heart. Here's a sample:
It goes on and on and on but you get the gist of this thing. It's not altogether objective, the scores are somewhat random, and point values can vary from day to day.
My brain, an over-powered and rather glitchy calculator, is frequently calculating as I go through my day. Honestly, it starts and lingers with my own balance sheet more than others’. I’m often assessing myself on a variety of familiar measures, implanted in childhood or acquired through a series of positive and negative experiences and interactions with other humans.
Sometimes, Isabella scores really high. Check. In fact, check, check, check, plus extra-credit points. That’s a good feeling.
More often though, points are subtracted. Some days, a lot of points. That's when I bust out the hair shirt, which I wear discreetly under my attractive outfits.
Sadly, there are also points I don’t get because I’m so hard on myself and conversely, personal defects I skillfully rationalize or just don’t see. (Thank you, Jesus, for standing in that gap.)
In many, but not all, respects, I’m a better human today than I was last week, but am far from perfect. Very far. There are some issues that have persisted even as I beg God for relief and try hard. He's gracious to allow me my humanity so I stick close to Him.
Certain days, you may want to gaze up into my face with unqualified admiration, kneeling slightly. Other days, you might recoil in horror at my despicable thoughts and sentence me to the Siberian gulag (Jesus counts thoughts, you see, even if you don't act on them). Often, I visit both in the same afternoon or hour. Again, a slight exaggeration--kinda.
This approach to life can be rather exhausting and emotionally trying. One minute, you're Mother Theresa. The next minute, Charles Manson. OK, I'm suggesting some extremes. The points is, it's very burdensome and the whole thing produces some unpleasant results for me and for you. Because, let’s face it, I’m sometimes assessing you, too.
The fact is, in the light of the perfect, Almighty God, we are all utterly bankrupt on our very best days. Romans 3, my favorite book and a chapter worth reading repeatedly, says this:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; (v.11)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (v.23)
There are a whole bunch of other verses along the same lines.
1 John is blunt:
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 1 John 1:8 (NLT)
We humans are a beloved mess. Some messes, especially these days, are especially gross. I cannot watch some news channels or the Facebook newsfeed because even seemingly ordinary, non-sociopaths, seem to be doing awful things more than ever.
Certainly, it's really easy to look at others and grade them as either better or worse than us, but really, we all fall way-way-way short of the perfection needed to stand in the presence of the God of the Universe. Which we're assured, we will all one day do.
Certainly, I compare very favorably with Hitler or even those folks on Facebook marketplace who just tried to swindle me in an apparently well-documented scam to secure my personal data for nefarious purposes.
I also need to concede that neither Hitler nor the swindlers are different species than I am. Confronted with the reality of real humans, even the very best ones, it seems that under the right circumstances--I believe most often greed, power, and fame--we can all go off the rails. Way off.
Of course, I remind you that aside from God’s loving discipline, sin is usually its own rather merciless punishment. When we defy God's order, we get in trouble and suffer consequences. Hopefully, we learn from them. Sometimes we don’t and things get worse.
On the other hand, if we live well, obedient or even simply following some commonly accepted standard of moral conduct, we usually (not always) do enjoy some benefit, including, but not limited to, peace of mind.
The Myth of the Cosmic Continuum
Some Christian denominations and many other religions, suggest a tally sheet like mine, where on your deathbed or in the unexpected crosshairs of cancer or a car wreck, Saint Peter or some other VIP will tabulate the columns and you will earn your way to heaven or be sent straight to hell. Of course, many people don’t believe in any kind of afterlife and thus choose to live well or badly for other reasons, expecting death is the final stop. That’s a big gamble, if you ask me, but OK. We all get to choose.
Our natural, human tendency is to want to assess myself in comparison to someone else, plotting myself on some kind of continuum of goodness.
I’m so sorry to tell you that this had nada to do with our eternal fate. The Bible says that one day we'll stand before God and give account for our lives. Whatever our balance sheet looks like at that fateful moment, our "good deeds are like filthy rags" in the perfect light of Christ (Isaiah 64:6).
While sin and virtue matter and God does deem some sins more destructive than others, the idea of the score card has no relevance to our eternal fate. Likewise, we are told we'll earn some heavenly perks by how we live our lives here, but we cannot be good enough to earn our way into heaven. The Book's pretty clear about that.
There is only one name by which we can be saved in eternity and gain admission to heaven: Jesus. But honestly, that's such good news.
The Good News
This is excellent news if you’re imperfect or have the delusion of being perfect.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).
I have a rather heavy, lengthy tome that goes from here, but I gratefully report that I have some substantial new writing projects on which I got a bit behind over the holidays while fighting the family flu, so I am going to pause here and post this thing on time. Truth is, it’s also just a very intense and thorny topic, this one of human waywardness, obedience, God’s loving (but sometimes scathing) discipline, and the fate of mankind. I will unpack the rest over time. So, for now, I'll leave it at this:
We are all in equal need of a Savior, even on our best days.
The Good News is we have One. His name is Jesus, may you find Him now.
Grace & peace in Christ,
PRAYER: Jesus. Thank You for not keeping score like I do. Thank You for loving me where I am and including me in Your heavenly kingdom despite my poor grades. Please help me ask for, receive, and extend the forgiveness and grace You offer freely. Thank You. I love You. ACTION: Make up a score card like mine with a few of the measures you use to rate yourself and others. Ask Jesus to entrust the scoring to Him.
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