The story is told (and I have told it at least once in a sermon; but, it’s worth repeating) that The Times of London once sent out an inquiry to famous authors asking them to submit essays in response to the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” G. K. Chesterton, the Christian apologist and author of the Father Brown mysteries, sent in this reply:
Yours, G.K. Chesterton.
What a succinct and humble confession! It is also a brilliant gem of profound theology. Surely other authors would have waxed eloquent on the subject in lengthier essays. (In fact, so did Chesterton, in a collection of essays titled What’s Wrong with the World—but for only 100 pages or so.) With the words “I am” he confesses that he is a sinner and that, quite simply, is everything that’s wrong with the world, not just today but every day and in every age. Those two words also confess the first, chief, and worst sin: self-idolatry, trying to replace the true God with the self. “I AM” is God’s self-identification. We creatures rebelled against that, in effect saying, “I AM (my own being, my own god).” Prof. Joel Okamoto of St. Louis summed it up this way: “God is God (and we don’t like that very much!).” A corollary sin (“sin 1-A”) goes along with the first: doubting or twisting God’s Word, making Him out to be a liar, thus damaging His name and reputation.
The second great sin is loving self but not loving one’s neighbor the same. Normally, most of us would never dream of doing as Cain did, murdering his brother and neighbor, or deliberately hurting or harming our neighbor in his body, or robbing him of spouse, family, or goods. Yet we much more readily speak or write ill of our neighbor, damaging his name and reputation. In the Large Catechism on the Eighth Commandment, Luther says:
It is a common vice of human nature that everyone would rather hear evil than good about his neighbor. Evil though we are, we cannot tolerate having evil spoken of us; we want the golden compliments of the whole world. Yet we cannot bear to hear the best spoken of others. …
Therefore God forbids you to speak evil about another even though, to your certain knowledge, he is guilty. All the more urgent is the prohibition if you are not sure but have it only from hearsay. But you say: “Why shouldn’t I speak if it is the truth?” I reply: “Why don’t you bring it before the regular judge?” “Oh, I cannot prove it publicly; I might be called a liar and sent away in disgrace.” Ah, now do you smell the roast?
In this age of social media and nearly instant online access to “information” (much of which is unfiltered garbage), the temptation to gossip, rumor, and break the Eighth Commandment in other ways—even with “the truth”—is as strong as ever, and easier and speedier than ever. Let us guard not only our lips but also our pens, styli, keyboards, email, texting, etc., from shame, falsehood, and ‘truth’ that may demolish. Rather, let us edify one another, speaking the Truth in Love (Eph 4:11–16).
Soli Deo Gloria,