It’s an easy, blame shifting and burden lifting phrase: ‘we all make mistakes.’ It seems for some reason to be a catchall cliché for the underachievement of everyday life, as if the acknowledgement of the imperfection of humanity in general pardons one’s personal and specific incapability. In today’s world, a shrug of the shoulders and a blank stare – in combination with this phrase – actually disarms constructive criticism or valuable evaluation. Normally this type of cultural de-evolution would annoy me at a level only equal to that of un-erasable Family Matters phrase ‘Did I do That?’
Now you’re going to have Steve Urkel on the brain all day.
I was forced, however, to consider the deeper implications of this phrase when I found it ingrained in my own psyche during my Lenten reflections. Having begun a journey of self-examination on Ash Wednesday we all have the opportunity to consider our own brokenness and shortfalls. As I was doing so, a small voice whispered seductively in the back of my mind…
“We ALL make mistakes.”
I took the bait for a second. ‘That’s right, we do all make mistakes [insert doe-eyed shrug visual here]. ‘
Immediately I felt like punching myself in the face. How easily I fell for the sophomoric logic that if everyone is a moron I could be a moron with them and feel ok about myself! Now the phrase in question has taken on a much higher level of annoyance – on par with when people say Kurt Cobain was a brilliant and terminally tormented artist like Hemmingway or van Gogh.
The man made millions of dollars singing a song with the refrain ‘A mulatto, an albino, A mosquito, my libido. Yeah, hey, yay.’
Not brilliant. Probably not an artist…
We’ve all gotten comfortable – too comfortable – with the notion that we are fatally flawed. We are so quick to give a pass to others when they underperform at a task, job or assignment because we recognize in ourselves a common denominator of fail. If mankind were a math equation, it would be: us over screw – up times blew-it-again minus talent and ability equals tragedy - remainder you.
That, however, has always been true. And certainly, with great effort mankind has in some regards overcome some deficiencies – though far more remain. But it isn’t the realization of our common failure that bothers me. It’s that fact that we’ve stopped asking why.
We all make mistakes. Why? Why is that? Why isn’t anyone perfect? Why is it that we are so diverse in heritage, tradition, nationality, race, religion and creed – and yet share one common trait of imperfection? Why has no one figured this out? Why do we all – ALL – make mistakes?
Because we all are born with a nature of sin. It’s not popular to say in our world today. Some might think it archaic or small minded – but there is no other explanation in science or the humanities as to why this characteristic would be universal among people.
Lent is our opportunity to not shrug and to not dismiss our mistakes as minor or diminished by a law of universal failure. It is our time to consider God’s response to our mistakes.
This weekend in church we will compare and contrast two stories – one from numbers 14 and one from Luke 4 – of God’s children struggling in the wilderness. In the first, Israel rebels against God. It results in great punishment – but hey, everyone makes mistakes, right?
Wrong. In the second story we’ll see Jesus remain faithful in the face of great temptation. He will do for us what we cannot. He will grant to us what we cannot earn. He will bear that which would crush us. He will remain without sin and be the sacrifice we so desperately need.
Not everyone makes mistakes.