First of all, I like cats, and some wonderful people close to me (like my daughter) are cat lovers. Bear with me.
You may have heard of a mysterious ad campaign this week. Posters appeared across the country with headlines like:
HIPSTERS DESERVE TO DIE
THE SMUG DESERVE TO DIE
THE TATTOOED DESERVE TO DIE
THE GENETICALLY PRIVILEGED DESERVE TO DIE
CAT LOVERS DESERVE TO DIE
These posters caused outrage. “What the heck?” Who can say that? Who’s behind this?
“We knew that one would be polarizing,” said Denise Kohnke, vice president of strategy for Laughlin/Constable who designed the ads. “The absurd thing is no one deserves to die.” Then a website was unveiled: www.noonedeservestodie.org.
The outrage struck me. But Kohnke’s quote and the website name struck me more. No one deserves to die?
Everyone deserves to die.
One of the cold, hard truths I wrestle with as a Christian is sin. You may be familiar—Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, rupturing Eden and their relationship with God. It’s also Hitler, genocide, sex trafficking, Bernie Madoff, Jeffrey Dahmer, you, and me.
In my Philosophy of Religion class at the University of Wisconsin, we talked about the fundamental questions that everyone has to answer, often through a package of answers called a religion. One of the key questions is, “What is the nature of humanity? Are we fundamentally good or evil?”
Some people think we are fundamentally good, and evil is illusion. Christian Scientists and Buddhists are in that ballpark. But it is really hard to make that case. We see, feel, and perpetrate evil. We may not be murderers, but in our own subtle ways, we wrong others, our thoughts betray our hearts. Even our kindness and generosity can become a source of pride.
In the Bible, in the letter Paul wrote to the Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…the wages of sin is death” (3:23 and 6:23). If everybody is a sinner and sinners deserve death, we all deserve to die. It’s like the transitive property of condemnation. (I don’t remember that one being covered in algebra.)
Why do we deserve to die if we’re sinners? What if we’re not very bad? What if we try our best? What if we’re not Hitler or Madoff or Dahmer? Why do we deserve to die?
I ask those questions. And the theological answers started to make more sense to me when I became a dad. If Phoebe hauls off and slugs Zeke, I need to address that, or I’m a bad father. If Zeke is a stubborn, selfish little brat, I need to discipline him. There are consequences for bad behavior, because I want what’s best for my kids, because I’m a good dad, because of my character.
God’s the same, but way more and way better. He’s perfect. (You’d agree that I’m not.) He’s not going to stand for genocide, greed, gossip, or any of our other garbage. “That’s wrong. And there are consequences.” It’s the model for how I parent my kids. Because of God’s character, he judges and punishes wrongdoing, sin. Death is one of the big signs of that, so much of our lives and thoughts are devoted to alleviating the fear that our mortality (and what comes after it) brings us. I think this leads to some of the outrage about the ad campaign. We don’t like that we all deserve to die. But deep down, we all know it’s true.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that God not only judges us. He loves us, too—incredibly so, unbelievably so. He took the fall, he took the punishment.
The good news is Jesus.