Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy…. He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone. — DIETRICH BONHOEFFER
Some years ago we traded in my old Volkswagen Super Beetle for our first piece of new furniture: a mauve sofa. It was roughly the shade of Pepto-Bismol, but because it represented to us a substantial investment, we thought “mauve” sounded better.
The man at the furniture store warned us not to get it when he found out we had small children. “You don’t want a mauve sofa,” he advised. “Get something the color of dirt.” But we had the naive optimism of young parenthood. “We know how to handle our children,” we said. “Give us the mauve sofa.”
From that moment on, we all knew clearly the number one rule in the house. Don’t sit on the mauve sofa. Don’t touch the mauve sofa. Don’t play around the mauve sofa. Don’t eat on, breathe on, look at, or think about the mauve sofa. Remember the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden? “On every other chair in the house you may freely sit, but upon this sofa, the mauve sofa, you may not sit, for in the day you sit thereupon, you shall surely die.”
Then came The Fall.
One day there appeared on the mauve sofa a stain. A red stain. A red jelly stain.
So my wife, who had chosen the mauve sofa and adored it, lined up our three children in front of it: Laura, age four, and Mallory, two and a half, and Johnny, six months.
“Do you see that, children?” she asked. “That’s a stain. A red stain. A red jelly stain. The man at the sofa store says it is not coming out. Not forever. Do you know how long forever is, children? That’s how long we’re going to stand here until one of you tells me who put the stain on the mauve sofa.”
Mallory was the first to break. With trembling lips and tear-filled eyes she said, “Laura did it.” Laura passionately denied it. Then there was silence, for the longest time. No one said a word. I knew the children wouldn’t, for they had never seen their mother so upset. I knew they wouldn’t, because they knew that if they did, they would spend eternity in the time-out chair.
I knew they wouldn’t, because I was the one who put the red jelly stain on the mauve sofa, and I knew I wasn’t saying anything. I figured I would find a safe place to confess—such as in a book I was going to write, maybe.
The Stain of Sin
The truth is, of course, that we have all stained the sofa. Some of the stains are small and barely noticeable. But some of them bleed through the entire fabric of our lives. They are the stains we regret in the wee, cold hours of the night as we lie in bed staring at the ceiling, wishing we could go back and relive some moments and get things right this time.
They may be the stains that, if we don’t regret, we ought to—and we would if our hearts were working right. We are all, to mimic the title of Cornelius Plantinga’s remarkable book, “not the way we’re supposed to be.”
People do not talk a great deal about sin anymore. As Plantinga puts it,
The awareness of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin, feared it, fled from it, grieved over it. Some of our grandparents agonized over their sins. A man who lost his temper might wonder whether he could still go to Holy Communion. A woman who for years envied her more attractive and intelligent sister might worry that this sin threatened her very salvation…. In today’s group confessionals it is harder to tell. The newer language of Zion fudges: “Let us confess our problem with human relational adjustment dynamics, and especially our feebleness in networking.” Or, “I’d just like to share that we just need to target holiness as a growth area.” Where sin is concerned, people just mumble now.
All of us will have to log some time in front of the sofa.
Ortberg, John. 2009. The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Check out the new Bible Study, The Life You’ve Always Wanted. It is available on Amazon, as well as part of the Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service. (Like Netflix for Bible lessons.)