Sunday, August 8, 1989

Location - FNCA 1989
Bible Verses - Leviticus 19:1-18
Mark 19:28-34

And the second is like, namely this: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Mark 12:21

One of the more controversial statements in our theology is that we are born into evils of every kind.

By some this has been interpreted in a way that really differs very little from the doctrine of

original sin, leaving us with the hopeless conviction that everything good about us is the Lord's and

that everything wrong with us is our own fault. Others find it running counter to their strong sense

of the beauty of babies. I'd like this morning to tell you a story, a fable, that may put this in a

somewhat different light.

We'll set the story once upon a contemporary time, in a country not far away. We'll suppose a happy

and healthy young couple, who, as the story begins, had just had their first child. Like his parents,

he was happy and healthy. They named him Richard, after his grandfather, who was a family favorite.

Little Richard did just fine. Before you realized it, he was rolling over, then crawling, then pulling

himself up, and he was just a little past eleven months when he took his first step. His parents

didn't brag about him too much, but secretly they knew that they had quite a remarkable child.

Of course they watched him constantly. They didn't want to miss anything. He might learn something new

any minute, and that very first time would never come again. That is why they were so quick to notice

that every once in a while, he would bump into something as though he hadn't even noticed that it was


The first time it happened was when a neighboring couple came over with their own little one. Their

child had a red wooden truck, and Richard's parents were a little worried that he would be unhappy if

he couldn't have it. At first they were relieved that he didn't pay any attention to it at all, but

when he tripped over it they were startled. He wasn't a clumsy child, and he looked so surprised.

"He was probably just a little tired, or perhaps more excited that we realized. it really was the

first time we've had company in the house for him to play with." And sure enough, the next time the

same company came, with the same red wooden truck, Richard didn't trip over it at all. In fact, he

gave it a little wider berth than he needed to, which set his parents wondering again.

The first time they took him to church and left him with the baby sitter, they were as anxious as any

new parents. After church, they barely shook hands with the minister before they hurried to find out

how things had gone. "Oh, he was just fine," said the sitter. "He's a very special fellow. I wish all

the children were as careful as he is--he's very mature for his age."

Now you need to remember that Richard was a first child, and that parents have a tendency to take

everything very seriously the first time around. Richard's parents started noticing every little

thing, and they became more and more puzzled. Sometimes Richard seemed quite heedless, and sometimes

he seemed unnecessarily cautious.

When it was time for his checkup, they both went to the doctor, and tried to explain what they were

worried about. The doctor checked Richard's eyes very carefully, and there was nothing wrong at all.

His coordination was fine, too, and they left the doctor feeling much better. "Children are

different," the doctor told them. "I wouldn't worry. He probably just gets wrapped up in his own

thoughts sometimes, and often that's a sign of unusual intelligence. He seems to remember the things

that have given him trouble, and then to be extra careful after that. When he does have one of his

surprises, just be reassuring, and I'm sure this will level itself out."

So Richard's parents got into the habit of reassuring him, just warning him now and again to pay

attention, and that seemed to be all that was needed. It helped particularly when they were in

unfamiliar surroundings. With just a little guidance, Richard would adjust very quickly.

So it came as a real surprise, after Richard started school, when his teacher said there might be

something that needed attention. It wasn't serious enough for a special call--she just mentioned it at

the regular parents' conference. It seemed to be the same old pattern, and it was strange that such a

bright boy could apparently fail to notice some very obvious things. The girl next to him had dropped

her crayon, and Richard had stepped on it. That sort of thing happened often enough, but Richard

didn't even seem to realize what he had done.

That brought back all the old anxieties, and the very next day Richard's parents made an appointment

with the doctor. Again, Richard turned out to be as healthy as he could be, but with the teacher

expressing concern, and not just a couple of first-time parents, the doctor thought there might

actually be some sort of problem. He recommended a very wise lady psychologist, to see whether perhaps

Richard himself was preoccupied with something he couldn't tell his parents about.

Richard took to her immediately, and so did his parents. After her first session, she said that he was

a particularly bright and thoughtful boy. She didn't think there were any serious problems, but there

were one or two things she didn't understand, and she would like to keep seeing him for a little

while. In the meantime, as far as she could tell Richard's parents were being very good parents, and

the best thing would be not to overreact, but to keep right on with the care and guidance Richard was

used to.

After a couple of months of visits, the psychologist said she wanted to talk to the parents. "Richard

has been doing drawings for me," she said, "and I think I've discovered what the problem is. Whenever

I ask him to draw something of his, like his house, or his toys, or his parents, he reaches for the

magic markers and does very nice and lively drawings. But when I ask him to draw someone else's house

or toys or parents, he just takes a pencil, and draws outlines. Once I asked him to draw a picture of

my desk, and he said he couldn't."

"I don't think there's anything deliberate about this. When I asked him why the picture of his house

looked different from the picture of his friend's house, he said it was because his friend's house

looked skinny, just like the picture. It seems to be the way he sees. Everything that is his looks

colorful and three-dimensional. Things that don't belong to him either look like outlines, or don't

look like anything at all."

"It would be a real handicap if he weren't so bright, but he has learned to cope with it remarkably

well. If I tell him that his friend's ball is blue, then he doesn't forget it. I described my desk to

him by comparing it to his play table at home, and then he did a pretty good drawing of it."

"You need to remember that there is nothing intentional about this. He is really a very considerate

fellow for his age--much more so than a lot of the children I see. You are very fortunate in that

respect. You will just have to do a lot of interpreting for him in new situations, and you can be very

sure that he will learn quickly, and have a normal life."

Richard's parents were good parents, and they quickly got used to talking to Richard about all sorts

of new things. It worked, too. Richard did well in school, and did well socially. He went to college,

and got a very good job with an insurance company. There was another new employee, Linda, and they

started sharing their experiences as the newcomers to the office. And then one morning, Richard's eyes

widened. "Linda," he said, "that dress is the most incredible shade of yellow I have ever seen."

We are all Richards, and because we are all Richards, that's what we regard as normal. We live in a

world full of feeling and thinking people, but the only feelings and thoughts that are in full color

and three dimensions for us are our own. We learn about others' indirectly, sometimes picking up

clues, sometimes having to be told. But if we persist, we can learn to love, and love, as our theology

tells us, is "feeling the joy of another as joy in oneself."

Only when that happens do we begin to see the world as it is. Until that time, our perception is as

handicapped as Richard's. There is nothing malicious about this, and we may hesitate to call it

"evil." But what else should we call it, when it is the source of all our inhumanity to each other?

If we ourselves felt the pain and grief we cause others, we would be immediately humane. If we

ourselves did feel the joy of others as joy in ourselves, we would be drawn to share everything that

gives us delight. What else shall we call it but evil, when it gives us such a distorted picture of

the world we live in?

There is a little more to it than that. Infants are responsive to the moods of those around them, and

sometimes that sensitivity comes to the fore. Babies may be wet and hungry and happy just because of

the happiness of those around them, and they may be dry and fed and miserable because of the tension

or anger in the room. The capability to perceive truly is there, and it can be developed. But it does

seem that we are born Richards, born with a vivid and overpowering sensitivity to everything that is

ours, and only dimly aware of what is others', born into evils of every kind.

Our theology has a great deal to say about dealing with this situation. It assures us that we have the

ability to love, and that through self-examination, repentance, and reformation of life, through

acting "as if," that ability will grow.

In the meantime, we might do well to be extra cautious. We might do well to move through life aware

that there is a great deal that we do not see, that as a matter of simple fact we do not see most of

the world. We might look and listen more intently, and give more weight to the little clues we do

notice. And we can do so knowing that this is a temporary expedient, that if we persist, the Lord will

surely bring us to see the world more truly as it is--in fact to love our neighbor as ourselves.Amen.

contact phil at for any problems or comments