Fool’s Paradise

Posted on Jan 27, 2014 in Theology blog | 4 comments

By Jack Irwin – My Blog for Jan. 26, 2014:  Fool’s Paradise

There are a lot of hypocrites all over the town, the state, the nation, and the world.  Everyone seems to be an expert on determining who is a hypocrite.  If you were to ask what is the best way of assessing whether someone, or the position they hold, is true, you would get out your “hypocrite meter!”  Our culture prides itself in discovering and bringing down those who are hypocrites.  Aren’t the changing-position-according-to-the-pole politicians hypocrites?  Aren’t those racist Christians hypocrites? Aren’t those atheists who admit to the uniqueness of mother earth hypocrites?  To say it another way, people have a nose for sniffing out someone who says/does one thing and at the same time says/does something contradictory.

However, while we denigrate hypocrites, in some ways our culture tolerates hypocrites.   Oh, politicians must be political.  Oh, we believe in the sanctity of marriage vows but pornography is legal.  Oh, the court holds parents responsible for their children until they are 18, but parents have no right to even know if their child gets an abortion.  Lots of hypocritical positions can be found in the way our culture operates.

Next to politics, religion is the number two subject of the “hypocrite-meter.”  Of all historical figures, Jesus rates high on using the “hypocrite-meter.”  He couldn’t be gracious, loving or merciful toward religious hypocrites.  Not meek and mild, he was judgmental and harsh with them.  To the Pharisees, a Jewish party who believed in practicing the Jewish religion “to the tee,” Jesus said, “You hypocrites!  Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, [saying] ‘These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.’”(Matthew 15:7-8, quoting the Old Testament prophet at Isaiah 29:13)

Isaiah was not alone.  We heard from our pastor today on how Jeremiah, the prophet to the Jewish state of Judah in the 7th century BC, accused the people of religious hypocrisy.  While they worshipped the Lord God Almighty of Israel and performed the rituals of the Jewish religion at the Temple in Jerusalem, they oppressed the alien, fatherless, and widow; shed innocent blood; and even worshipped other pagan gods.  (see Jeremiah chapter 7).

Religious worship alone does not prove that one is saved.  The Lord God is more interested in people acting out the principles of God’s Kingdom here on earth:  love, mercy and justice.  James, one of the first century Christian leaders, wrote to the New Testament church, that “true religion” is not about religious rituals and going to church but is looking after orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself from being polluted by the world.  (James 1:22)

So, we must always ask ourselves, are we “walking the talk”?  Does our walk contradict our talk? It is not easy to do this on our own.  We need others to help us go through this “check out,” and that is why church is helpful.  As we gather together in church to worship, we are reminded of true religion, we confess our sins and we are encouraged to practice what we believe.

Jack Irwin


  1. Okay. I’ll weigh in—but just briefly. This thread is expansive and my ambition is narrow:

    1. HYPOCRISY This is a tricky bit of exegesis. We think of hypocrisy exclusively as saying one thing and doing another. But I don’t think that fully captures the nuance of the Greek—or what Jesus or Isaiah were getting at. The word literally means “actor” or “putting on a mask.” This connotation would render the meaning: saying or teaching one thing while internally believing something entirely different. The first meaning is mere human failure. The second would lead to the destruction of the gospel. When my doctor tells me to stop smoking while he lights up another cigarette, I can call him ‘hypocrite” but I can’t call him a liar. My beloved Pharisees caught so much hell from Jesus, not because they were fallen but because they preached the Torah (and did much to keep Israel, and therefore the Covenant, alive) but lost sight of the Covenant being inclusive and “sought a righteousness of their own” (“For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. For the Messiah is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Rom 10) As Jack points out, we are always in danger of preaching the Messiah while missing His presence in real life (“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”Heb 13:2)

    2. I had a similar experience to Art’s Commodore’s Ball. I dressed in a tuxedo and attended the opulent trial lawyer dinner dance at the Beverly Wilshire—for the 35th time. Were there tourists in Babylon? I felt crappy about it. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a transformed mind feeling crappy about it. There would be a problem if you felt proud about it. Maybe wake up in the morning and do a little bit more or give a little bit more to the church and its people. Discipleship brooks no truck with non-productive guilt. Rather, it is a call for action—action grounded in a desire to follow Jesus of Nazareth.

    3. NEW ARK EVIDENCE This stuff is never new—and it undermines our faith when we keep searching with minds infected with the Enlightenment for scientific confirmation of what God has already revealed to us (“I’ll believe God and the bible if Stephen Hawing can prove it.” It also, I believe, is the wrong way to read scripture. We know that most ancient civilizations had some variety of the flood story.

  2. I agree with you both:

    Regarding the SBYC commodore’s ball, I did enjoy it. I particularly like being with the Chaplain, but her friends are great people as well. In defense of the Club, they raise A LOT of money for the Home Nursing and Hospice program in Santa Barbara. I suppose we make compromises between high living and living out our faith and pray we are doing OK.

    When I was in Nicaragua, I was in one of the poorest areas of the poorest country in Latin America. I make friends with a boy who was eager to help me with the repairs that I was doing at his school. In particular he helped with remount a door on a pit toilet…a really neat kid with a lot of enthusiasm.

    In sharp contrast, I can discuss sailing and anchoring in the Channel Islands with some not-so-poor yacht people in SB. If I have the opportunity I mention my efforts in countries such as Nicaragua.
    I strive to emulate the apostle Paul: To the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

    I think of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, richest men in the world. I know God is using them for HIS purpose, to alleviate hunger and poverty.

  3. I am awed by your reflection, John. So brutally honest and better than any confession I have read in church. This is the elephant in the closet of Western Christians.

    Maybe one answer is that God has placed us in a place where we can do something. So let’s do something.

    Also I will have to tell you about God’s Plan. He has what Mark Labberton the new Pres of Fuller who spoke to us at the Missions conference last weekend at Sta Barb PC (come with us next year) called “Plan A” which is to bring his Kingdom to earth thru you and me. Bound for failure!? But then Mark said, God has no plan B (roland would agree, I know). So God and we are stuck with Plan A, period.

    Another thought on Bill and Linda –read Jesus’ words about the sheep and the goats. Those who enter into the Kingdom said to Jesus. “When did we ever do this for you? In other words, We did not KNOW you! This upsets plenty of good Christians particularly evangelicals and Calvinists and fundamentalists.

    The question is not the words you say but the acts of you life whether serving coffee on the patio or building Amor homes.

    Also the paradigm is now shifted and backwards.

    It was this and still is for older generations. First believe then join a church then act out you Faith. This paradigm is still used in our church e.g. in last Subday’s sermon, which produced a lot of guilt and guilt is the wrong motivator.
    (My opinion now in retrospect – as witness ou responsive thoughts — altho lots of good stuff in the sermon )

    We have talked about reaching the younger generations. The older paradigm does not work for them, for example the Gates. ANd if we are to attract the Gates and other millenials this is the paradigm to use. First acts of compassion, mercy and justice. Second you must create a or find a community to do this and finally and only last discovering Jesus (not God) and belief.

    In other words, you realize that the most important acts of the church are mission and NOT worship, but the older paradigm makes worship pre-eminent. Just figure how much effort and dollars are spent on worship compared to mission.

    A story tells you this: many years ago the session passed a motion that worship should include a Moment for Mission (sorry John. only a moment) since mission was not really part of worship. It was done for a time but has now lapsed. Why? Leadership changed. Leadership ignored. No one spoke up. Because we like the first paradigm where worship is about belief not about mission —

    What you describe of Bill and Linda fits the new paradigm perfectly.

    Can we start using the new paradigm starting with your confession?

    Sad that we cannot do more and we should. You did not reply to my idea of bringing food to place under the altar-communion table? This is all about the reversal that Roland preaches — from ” going to heaven” to being the Kingdom emissaries while we live on earth.

    For the kingdom

  4. Jack/Art, I have become more and more troubled by the fact that I have such incredible bounty. Why have I been so blessed while at the same time there is such terrible poverty in the world? My Catholic guilt? Stevie Wonders lyric, “God knew exactly where He wanted you to be placed” resonates. While this does not answer the question of why I am so blessed, I know I must trust God. I also realize now that I have to do more Kingdom work, but sadly I’m getting older and slower; I wasted so many good years in the rat race of family, career, work and then my immaturity and ignorance. My small efforts with Amor just seem a drop in the bucket; but I’m not willing to give up my comforts to do that more even though my heart tells me so. I’ve resigned for now to believe the small part I do through God in my life will make a difference. I do see that with our loving Christian efforts, life in the world has gotten better by almost any measure than it has ever been. Slowly but surely we are bringing about His Kingdom. While I am not an expert in scripture, it is clear to me that part of following Jesus means to do all we can to love and care for each and every person…with our families, church families, communities and the entire world. I will try to do His will more, but I’ve got a long way to go.

    I am heartened by the example of a former Protestant turned strong agnostic Bill Gates. He and his wife (a Roman Catholic) are doing so much to eliminate suffering. He recently predicted that extreme poverty can be eliminated in 20 years and is pushing to make that happen. While Bill doesn’t like “organized” religion and once stated, “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient…There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.” …I wish he could have heard our Bill’s sermon this Sunday. But recently he has used the term “God’s work” to describe some of their efforts which was a huge change in his tone. Are we witnessing His Spirit in action!

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