My friend, Pastor Geoff Sinibaldo, authored a blog post entitled, “Resistance Is Not Futile (No Matter What the Borg Might Say),” and something he said really got me thinking. (You can read the entire post at http://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/resistance-is-not-futile.) Geoff wrote,
[The Borg] were a race of the collective – that assimilated all cultures and races by force to join them. They thought nothing of the destruction of planets, and histories, or of individuality. They were controlled by their technology, and their only goal was the assimilation of all. There was no compromise. They only uttered one mantra, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.
Yet the people did resist. The characters I came to love and enjoy did defeat them time and time again although the threat of another attack always loomed. The Borg revisited and we triumphed. Yet, the threat always remained.
Sometimes I think we consider God’s expectations of us this way. “Resistance is futile.” Because let’s be clear – None of us can fulfill God’s law and all of its demands. We just cannot do it. It cannot be done. We might be great people and make good thoughtful choices that consider others before ourselves most of the time. But no one, no one, can keep the law 100% of the time. So that leaves us in a precarious position, feeling futile. So what do we do next? One response would be to give up entirely. We could throw our arms up in disgust – with God, with ourselves, with the world, and just go about our business. If I can’t do it anyway – who cares? Why try? What difference does it make? Church just seems like a bunch of rules, judgment and hypocrisy, so why bother with it at all?
The Borg metaphor works because we do often feel that no matter how hard we try to follow God’s law, to be good, to be moral, failure is inevitable. So why even try? But that’s only true if we (mis)measure success by thinking that success = moral perfection. As Geoff points out elsewhere in his article, Jesus hasn’t left us alone to do God’s work in our own strength. God doesn’t expect perfection in this life. We just need to recognize the imperfection in ourselves continuously and ask Jesus for help. It is precisely in recognizing our own weakness and asking for God’s help that we make the most progress towards holiness. Holiness comes from drawing closer to God, not from striving to lead more moral lives on our own.
This is why I don’t think that hypocrisy is the main problem of the Church. A lot of people have this criticism of the Church: “The Church is full of hypocrites; lots of words about what’s right, but they never do them.”
This misses what hypocrisy really is. According to dictionary.com, a hypocrite is “a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.” I don’t think most people in the Church are pretending to have some virtue they know they don’t have. Maybe that’s true sometimes. But mostly, I think, people who are part of the Church (and many people outside the Church) long to have the virtues and beliefs that they know they don’t have or that they have only in an incomplete way. They would prefer to do the right thing, but they’re just too weak, too tired, or too influenced by the world around them. Most people are not deliberately putting on a show to deceive others; it’s just that their actions don’t match their beliefs due to weakness. That’s still a problem, but much less of a problem than hypocrisy.
You might be wondering, “What does it matter? Whether it’s moral weakness (people just aren’t strong enough or focused enough to do the right thing) or hypocrisy (people fake the virtues but still do wrong secretly), people are still saying they believe something but do the opposite.” But the difference is important, because Jesus’ response to moral weakness was different from his response to hypocrisy. In the Gospels, Jesus often comes into contact with “sinners,” people who are doing something wrong and (as far as we can tell) know that it is wrong. He also comes into contact with people who are strictly following some of the rules and consider themselves very righteous, but they are breaking some of the other commandments in less public ways. Jesus treated the “sinners” with compassion and invited them to have life in him so they could change (see John 8:2-11 and Luke 19:1-10, for example). On the other hand, religious leaders who saw themselves as righteous often were branded as “hypocrites” by Jesus (see Matthew 23:23-24; Luke 13:14-16, for example).
When he encountered what I call moral weakness (people who sin even though they should know better and who are not trying to deceive anyone with their “goodness”), Jesus always responded with compassion and with the invitation to new life. When he encountered hypocrites, his response was more harsh, an attempt to break through denial and defenses. Perhaps we can take a cue from Jesus and have more compassion for the people around us who would like to do the right thing but are having trouble doing so. We can point them to Jesus, who offers strength to start a new life. And the true hypocrites, hiding behind a façade and criticizing others? Have them read Luke 13 and Matthew 23.
Resistance is not futile