Have you noticed how prevalent exaggeration is in our language? Exaggeration is everywhere from the 4-year-old who says he is “starving to death” 15 minutes after lunch to the fisherman who relays the size of his great catch. We love to round-up. We love the superlatives. As the Lego movie taught us (painfully) “everything is awesome.”
But if everything is awesome then nothing is.
This is where we see how unhelpful our exaggeration reflex truly is. First, exaggeration diminishes our perception of reality. And second, exaggeration dulls our sense of the spectacular. We are always inflating or deflating with our exaggeration.
My concern with exaggeration is not so much with sociological observations but with theological implications. Let’s be clear: when you think the Bible’s portrayal of sin is exaggerated then you will think its statements about grace are overstated.
Let’s test it out with a passage in Genesis.
On the first had we see what God says about humanity:
“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)
At first blush you might want to qualify this, but this passage is not meant to be qualified. It is meant to be read and understood in a straightforward manner. This is a divine assessment upon humanity. And God says it is wicked. It is an indictment.
Notice how thorough Moses is in his statement. Sin is sourced in man (the thoughts of the heart), it is pervasive (every intention of the thoughts of the heart), and it is persistent (only evil continually). With our exaggeration reflex we may want to brush this off but we can’t. God is making a staggering statement about the radical rebellion of humanity. The creation that God formerly said was very, very good is now very, very bad.
Those prone to a culture of exaggeration might course correct this statement and relativize it. We are not that bad, we are just not as good as we should be. Here is the danger again, if you think the Bible is exaggerating in its statements about sin then you will not be very impressed with what it has to say about grace. In other words, you will be as impressed with grace as you are repulsed by sin.
In fact, look at verse 8 of the same chapter:
“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:8)
Favor is another word for grace. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Do you see how big this is? Because of the radical depravity of man all are cued up for destruction. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6.23). God’s goodness demands a penalty. In fact, God says he is sorry he made man and that he is going to blot them out (Gen. 6.6-7). We were so messed up that God was basically wiping his hands and going to start over.
Only he doesn’t wipe everyone out.
We read, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord”. That’s a big but right there. Like other conjunctions at key points of the Bible (cf. Eph. 2.4), this is a statement of contrast. It is like the waves of judgment being pushed back so that God’s people could be saved. It is grace. And grace is always amazing.
But again, in our over exaggerated world this is not that amazing. We autocorrect this by letting a couple of pounds of air out of the tires of the gospel. Our exaggeration of everything diminishes the spectacular. God shows grace to unworthy people!
Go ahead and put your name in there and make it personal.
“The Lord saw that the wickedness of Erik was great in the earth, and that every mention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
“But, Erik found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”
Let that sink in friends. This is no exaggeration. Apart from God we are all hopelessly lost. No, we are not all as loud in our public displays of lostness, some of us were much more respectable and clandestine about. But, make not mistake about it, all of us had the banner of verse 5 over our heads. But then verse 8 comes. Like Noah we find grace. There is greater grace for great sinners.
But there’s more. How does God have the right to show such staggering, pride-smashing, grace to such a lot?
It is because Jesus was blotted out for us. God does not withhold the strokes that justice demands of us, no, he gives them in full measure to Christ instead. Here at the cross we see the wonder of wonders. Full, unmitigated, fully fermented divine wrath served in a cup to Christ that we might drink the cup of sweet, delicious, eternally satisfying, gracious blessings.
If you think the Bible’s portrayal of sin is exaggerated then you will think its statements about grace are overstated. Friends beware of letting the air out of the grace of God while inflating your own goodness. Our culture of exaggeration aids and abets this and we must fight against it.
The gospel is, after all, awesome (no exaggeration).
This blog originally appeared at The Gospel Coailition on May 24th, 2016