I heard a story about a young boy who once got himself addicted to milk, if such an addiction were possible. His situation got so bad that at home they could not keep any milk for more than six hours without his promptly consuming it all. His mother grew alarmed by his voracious appetite for milk, and after failing over and over again to beg, upbraid and even wean him off it, she began to complain to his more authoritarian father. To her frustration and bewilderment, he showed no alarm whatsoever, and even though he promised each time to talk to their son about it, he never did. Exasperated, the concerned mother asked him one day, “Don’t you care that our son is addicted? Can’t you see we are losing him?”
At those words, dad turned and faced mom, looking away for the first time from his newspaper, his head tilted down and peered upwards over the silver rim of his spectacles.
“Darling,” he said. “Other women’s children are addicted to wee, cocaine, meth and cutting themselves with razors. Considering Kojo is merely on milk, I think you should be thankful.”
Small Sins, Small Love
In my personal experience as a Christian there was a time when I questioned not the reality, but the extent of my own love for Christ. The reason I did so did not stem from anything in my own thinking or value system, rather from a logic that came from God Himself in His word. In a proposition whose profundity I was to discover much later, He told me in Luke 7:47,
“But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
This statement did not come in a vacuum. It came as a deductive conclusion of a story and a parable. In the story a woman of many sins came in tears and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and then anointed him with fragrant oil.
It was also an affirmation of Peter’s inference from a Parable Jesus told to make the point, about two debtors whose debt were cancelled. One owed more than the other, and Peter rightly inferred that the one who had been forgiven the greater debt was likely to love the creditor more.
I wondered then, how much I could truly love God, on the simple, objective basis of that proposition. No matter how much I thought or felt I loved God, I had to face the otherwise welcome truth that before conversion, I was no reveler, carouser, drunkard, murderer, prostitute, robber, or anything of the sort of magnitude I imputed to the woman’s sin. I was not like her; I was a far lesser sinner; my sin tumors were far smaller, and far more benign. Could I ever out-love a saved prostitute or armed robber? Or was my love for God forever capped at the low ceiling determined by my rather good pre-conversion experience?
Sometimes I actually wished I had been much worse before meeting Christ, so that I could have been forgiven more, and therefore loved Him more. I kid you not. Thankfully, my understanding of the text has matured since then, as I’ll share in a bit.
I bring it up to show how easy it is for us to be deluded as to the extent of our sinfulness before a holy God. We are not corrupt hedge-fund investment managers, rapists, or terrorists. We are merely addicted to milk. Shouldn’t God be thankful?
Slipping over Spilled Milk
It may be that our sins are not as grievous as they might be as actions, but they are nonetheless wholly and completely sinful. There are no degrees of sinfulness, only degrees of the greatness of sin, just like there are different sizes of dogs, but none more dog than the other.
The young boy in our story was addicted merely to milk, but he was addicted nonetheless. He was no less addicted than a heroine or meth addict, and his predicament deserved more attention from his negligent father, and from himself.
When our waywardness becomes small and trivial in our own eyes, like milk, we’re likely to make a smaller effort to overcome them, likely to call on and rely on God less to give us victory over them. Milky paths are slippery, and how often have we not slipped up on such paths? These are the paths of those people who are warned so sternly by Paul, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” 1 Corinthians 10:12
These paths are grit and firm while the sin remains hidden, massaged, cherished, and nourished. Such things grow. At some point, they no longer fit in the enclosures of secrecy or ineffectiveness. Like diseases they break forth in pestilences; like plagues they ravish the vast plains of our lives and fortunes.
It’s Where You Put Your Eyes
There’s a great little song form Sesame Street that teaches kids about the relativity of size, how things far away appear small and things close appear large.
“It’s where you put your eyes, that’s about the size of it,” the song goes. In one verse, it opines:
“Oh the big becomes the little
when you see it back a bit.
The huge becomes the dinky
which is just the opposite
of the larger that gets smaller,
it never seems to quit –
That’s about the size of it.
That’s about the size;
where you put your eyes
That’s about the size of it.”1
It’s a great song, and I wonder how I missed it back when I voraciously consumed Sesame Street as a child. So what’s the real size of your sin? Well, you see, it’s where you put your eyes. It’s entirely up to you how to want to look at it. You can look at it in comparison with others you consider worse than yourself, the perverts and vermin of the earth. Remember when you do so that the measure is still you; they are worse than you according to you!
The woman in Luke 7:36 – 47 saw herself as a great sinner. That society saw her as a sinner is not the point of the story. The woman came into the gathering out of her own free will, weeping. Not only that, but she likely came with a tear bottle, a small ceramic jar that Ancient Near Easterners used to store their tears as silent prayers. They were very precious, and were often buried with their owners at death as a continuing supplication that God remember them even in death. That she expended this treasure on the feet of Jesus is a powerful testimony that she put all of her hope in Him, in this life and in the next. That is how great she saw her sin, for at the same time, there were countless prostitutes walking about in Jerusalem, jolly and oblivious.
Similarly, but on the flip side, many have insisted – and I believe it – that it is not so much that Christ loved John more than the other disciples, but that John impinged himself so hard on the Saviour as to deem himself closer to the Master than any other person in the world. It is only ever John who calls himself “The disciple whom Jesus loved.” Of this relationship Ellen White writes,
“It was John’s deep love for Christ which led him always to desire to be close by His side. The Saviour loved all the Twelve, but John’s was the most receptive spirit.”
From where John put his eyes, Jesus loved him more than anyone else.
That’s About the Size of It
The expression “That’s about the Size of it” is commonly used to show agreement that what someone has said – often in doubt or incredulity – is indeed correct. Typical example:
Kwesi: “You mean I’m supposed to do all this work all by myself?”
Akosua: “Yup. That’s about the size of it!”
You can look at your “little” sins in comparison with the purity of Christ, in which case you are likely to see them as quite sinful indeed. Yet though this provides a more accurate picture of who we are before God, merely looking at Christ’s holiness is not a sufficient help. I have found that the best view of my own sinfulness is Calvary.
You see, on that cross, Jesus died for the sinner both of the greatest the (so-called) littlest sins. Imagine this: if there were only ever one sin committed in all the universe in the entire history of existence by just one man at only one time in the littlest of ways, it would still have cost God His entire life to expiate and atone for it. That’s about the size of sin.
Looking at the cross not only helps us realize the extent of our sin, it frees us with the knowledge of the extent of His grace. “…For where sin increased, grace increased all the more”! (Romans 5:20). Looking at the cross of Calvary prepares us to look at the risen Christ, in whose grace we can become more and more like He is (2 Corinthians 3:18). Christ came to work out a redemption that leaves us without “spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing”. (Ephesians 5:27). Think about it; as a metaphor for sin, Paul employs not deep scars or hardened scabs, but spots, the little things… wrinkles, the natural things.
A Conclusion in Real Time
As I wrote this, my roommate was giving me a fitting conclusion to the whole picture, in real time. He was having a jovial argument with a mutual frined about cheating during exams. At the top of his usually serene voice he was shouting, “It is a sin! It is a sin!!” Sammy would respond “Don’t judge me!” But Kojo remained persistent, no doubt with the fires of righteous indignation raging in his heart.
Very soon the other noticed Kojo was wearing his shirt inside out; he was just out of bed. “Aha, look at your shirt. Is that how to wear your shirt? It is a sin!” Kojo’s response was “I accept it is wrong, but – ” “No, it is not wrong, it is a sin!” Retorted Sammy.
I lay in my bed, laughing uncontrollably as I typed this. When Kojo walked in after the exchange, I was still laughing. He continued his protest, “I know it is wrong, but it’s not a sin.” I did not argue against him, but I could not help but notice that where Sammy had decided to put his eyes, perhaps out of mischief or self-defense, it could certainly be berated as harshly as cheating in exams.
Shakespeare said that all of life is a stage. If he is right, then God has a front-row seat. And if we are living in the view of a holy God, then wow, what a thought. As Peter asks, albeit rhetorically, “what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11). From a God’s eye view, the righteousness we think we have reared and preserved, spotted only here and there by the random, isolated little thing, is as “filthy rags before him.” (Isaiah 64:6)
Like the little boy addicted to milk, we are fundamentally broken, even if it is manifest in apparently small ways. The effects of this brokenness are greater than we can imagine, or ever afford. We must avoid the milky way as much as the bloody path of sin.
So why have I written this to you, O sinner of little sins? Am I saying that you are as sinful as you can be? That you are no holier than the worst of them in the eyes of God? That your human weakness, though understood by Him, does not excuse you before Him? That you are in need, every single day, of a personal, all-sufficient Saviour?
From where God has his eyes, that’s about the size of it.
If you’d like to hear the great Sesame Street song, here it is!