A couple of years ago, I traveled to Berlin, Germany on a family vacation. There were a lot of incredible sites I saw while I was there, but one location stood out. In the heart of Berlin, there is a memorial aptly named ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’. (It’s the most German name ever: both a run-on sentence and succinctly descriptive). Truthfully, at first glance, the memorial doesn’t look like much. It consisted of a lot of nearly identical unmarked pillars, equally spaced out forming a grid of paths that ran from one side of the plaza to another.
When you stand on one side of the plaza and look out over the obelisks, they look to be relatively the same height as one and other. But when you look at the small, narrow paths that make up the grid of the plaza, you can see the decline that forms a sort of bowl in the center of the memorial.
To be perfectly honest, the whole thing seemed lost on me. It was a bunch of boxes evenly spaced out in the middle of a major city. Aside from the handful of signs telling a passersby that this was a somber memorial, you could easily have mistaken it for a weird piece of European modern art (I know I sound like a terribly uncultured American, and that’s because I am). The significance of the event the memorial represented wasn’t lost on me. I just couldn’t figure out a clear connection between the the event and the memorial.
I looked and saw a path in front of me that ran clear to the other side, and so I decided to walk to the other side and see what was over there. The descent into the memorial began slowly enough that I almost didn’t notice it. I made it about a third of the way in when I began to understand the memorial itself, and its simple brilliance.
As I got further and further into the plaza, I began to get disoriented. The obelisks began to grow taller than I was, and I couldn’t see over them. This was a little unnerving since it meant that I couldn’t see if I was about to bump into other people walking on other paths. I also stopped being able to hear the city around me. When I had been standing outside of the plaza, the street was alive with noise, basically shouting out me. Inside the plaza however, there was a quiet stillness that was incredibly out of place in the middle of downtown Berlin. In addition to that, the path had dipped low enough that I could no longer clearly see the other side, and I hadn’t even noticed. Almost by accident, I found myself feeling completely cut off from the world around me, isolated. I couldn’t hear or see anyone else, and I felt lost.
I can’t help but be reminded of sin when I think about that encounter. Few, if any, people ever begin down a path they know will lead them into evil (and if they do, say in TV or movies, it’s universally done because of some great evil done to them). No, instead, everyone I know goes about their life thinking they are living a “good” life, defining the standard by a number of factors.
The most dangerous aspect of sin is its gradual nature. The old adage asking if we “would jump off of a bridge if our friends would” gets the question wrong. Sin is not a high dive into deep and chilly waters; it is a gradual wandering into the surf on a beach. You walk out, at your own pace, growing more and more acclimated to the tide, waters, and waves. And any time you begin to feel like you’re venturing too far out into the water, you simply need to look up and see that others are out further ahead of you, and immediately you are reassured.
Sins, great and small do not “just happen”. From the smallest lie to the worst offense, sins are the result of dozens of seemingly innocent choices that have gradually pushed you out too far, until the current pulls you under, past the point of no return.
It is easy to sit back on the beach and shout at people, telling them they have gone out too far. And this is is exactly what many well-intentioned church going folk do; sit despondent in their pews worrying about the gradual descent of culture and society around them. “Woe is us” they say, unwilling to get up and try to rescue even the nearest victim. Or they may angrily shout from the shore line that those lost in the waves have “done this to themselves”. And neither is our true example.
Christ came and offered hope to those who had been pulled out past the breakers, swept up by the current. For Him, there is no ‘point of no return’. There is no anger to those who got lost in the current, instead turning His anger on those shouting ferociously from the safety of the beach, but doing nothing else.
Ours is a delicately desperate mission in life. We are to help save the drowning without drowning ourselves.
It is risky.
It is dangerous.
It is our mission.
I love you an there’s nothing you can do about it.
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