A fable from medieval times tells of a council of mice that met to discuss their perennial problem: the cat. After a few moments of discussion, a brilliant young mouse proposed a new solution. If the mice could hang a bell around the cat’s neck, they could defeat its stealth and always know when it was stalking them. The younger mice celebrated the end of their problem until a wizened old mouse said, “Y’all have it all worked out, for sure, but how’re y’all gonna put the bell on him?” When neither an agent nor a method for belling the cat emerged, the old mouse said, “IT IS USELESS TO PROPOSE IMPOSSSIBLE REMEDIES.” But perhaps the ancient wisdom is wrong. It is not always useless.
As always, the coming of a new year gives me pause to reflect upon resolutions I will adopt to attain greater holiness. As usual, I will pledge on New Year’s Eve to read the Bible, pray every day, lose 15 pounds, run a marathon, and neither see, hear, nor speak any evil in 2014. As the year unfolds, I’ll read the Bible faithfully and pray every day. I’ll lose weight and then put it back on in time to lose it again next year. I’ll probably even run another marathon. But I will certainly not attain perfect holiness this year.
So why bother planning an impossible remedy? If the perfect holiness that God has imputed to me in Christ cannot be actualized in practice, what good does it do to pledge and yearn and strive for a life of holiness?
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said: “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.” I saw this truth once while attempting to share my faith with a rather licentious man. In the course of the discussion I said, “I am far more concerned about the evil in me than the evil I see in others.” He pressed me to share details of the evil in me, only to assure me that such evils existed only in my perception. As a matter of fact, he believed in no objective evil or good in the world, seeing it all as a matter of personal perspective. The more I tried to eradicate the evil in me, the more I saw it as serious and real. The more the other man endulged himself, the less he believed it existed anywhere.
I do not want to live that way, unaware of the evil that constantly seeks to ambush me. So I strive to eradicate it. Even though I will not utterly defeat it during my life in the flesh, I want to identify it and call it out. We work at holiness because if we do not, sin will sneak up on us–not like a mere cat, but like a lion seeking to devour us.
Best wishes with your best resolutions this year! (It’s never too late to make a few.)