Lessons from Whack-a-Mole
Those clever little electronic moles! Just when you prepare to whack the one in front, he disappears and the rascal in the back pops up. You prepare to smite him and now he’s gone too. Look, over there! That’s the mole you should focus on now! Wait, no, that one! Mostly you just pound empty holes.
The moles try to survive by alternating and distracting you, blurring your vision and confusing your aim. As a carnival game, it’s great fun. But when a sinful world adopts the same strategy and convinces you to play along, no one wins.
Our culture plays this game by choosing some sins to act as cover for other sins. While you’re bashing one, another pops up to do damage elsewhere. We see this in books and movies and in real life, where the “good guy” may lie, sleep around, or break a few laws, but at least he gets the bad guy, who is a rapist or a terrorist, or some other Real Evil. The giveaway that you’re being gamed is that the list rotates: sins disappear from the naughty list and pop up on the nice list and vice versa depending on the cultural mood at the moment. Before any real progress is made against it, the great sin of one generation ago goes underground covered by a pile of excuses and mitigating circumstances while everyone points at a new sin. Sins that disappear aren’t being defeated by righteousness, they’re merely alternating in rapid succession so that they can survive and pop up again later.
Don’t Play By the Devil’s Rules
Two truths that the game tries to exploit are that some sins really are worse than others and that you can’t be fighting every sin all the time. But this game isn’t simply highlighting the fact that heroes have tragic flaws or that our limitations mean that we need to prioritize. The goal of the game is to train you in the habit of diverting your attention from one sin to another so that you grow accustomed to shifting your gaze and pulling your punches so that you’ll be ready in time for the next one to pop up. Then the sins on the naughty list keep rotating until you find that you’ve overlooked most every sin in comparison to a worse one at some point. When this game gets played out over a lifetime, the list of really bad sins looks pretty short, while the list of comparably petty sins seems to be a mile long. And because petty sins call for petty remedies, at the end of the day, instead of a having five or six clean kills that scare the others away, you have thirty moles who are willing to put up with the occasional bruised nose as long as they can keep tearing up the yard when your attention is somewhere else. You lose.
But since Whack-A-Sin is a devilish game, God’s people shouldn’t feel the need to play by the Devil’s rules. You can’t win at Whack-A-Sin if you play alone, so surround yourself with brothers and sisters past and present, near and far. Hand each of them a mallet and fight as one body. Listen as your fellow church members confess as sins things the world trumpets as virtues. Learn wisdom as they testify to the destructiveness of behaviors and attitudes that the world tempts you to casually dismiss. Rejoice with them in victories won. Imitate their strategies and practices for overcoming sin and temptation. Use their eyes and experience to remind you that what the world tolerates today is just as sinful as it was in their day, what the world excuses here is just as sinful as it is there, because it is sinful in the eyes of the One who fills heaven and earth and who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.