Today I saw a video about a man in Thailand who shares his home with thousands upon thousands of scorpions. Honest.
Apparently the poor guy had previously earned a living selling scorpions to local restaurants – apparently these things are a delicacy over there.
But the mass murder of these scorpions was too much for this man’s conscience. And so, he has opened his home, spending his days caring for them, providing food, shelter, and – judging by the way the scorpions crawled over him – companionship.
His reasoning is a simple one: atonement. His care for these creatures is intended to atone for the lives he’d taken in his former occupation. He even buys scorpions from other scorpion dealers (or whatever their job title is) to prevent the further loss of life.
The end result? He lives in squalor. He faces an uphill battle of constantly taking care of these things.
Humans are complicated. Many people suffer from a profound sense of guilt and shame they can’t get rid of. This may come from their own conscience, the expectations of others, or even the strict rules of moralistic religion.
The end result? We live in an unending state of self-improvement. Trying to atone for our wrongs by…well, you name it. The unending mantra of the religious crowd is “do more stuff.” Go to church. Listen to the “right” music, read the “right” books. Pray more. Home school your kids. Get involved in charity and social action. Maybe even go “green,” just to hedge your bets.
But in the end, is any of this really that different from the scorpion guy? It’s all disgusting; this is why Paul called religion “skubala” (quite literally the “s”-word of the ancient world) in contrast to Christ (Philippians 3:8).
In the absence of grace, we are all scorpion kings, sitting amongst the squalor of self-serving morality. But Christ came to show offer forgiveness not by saying “do this,” but by saying “it’s done.” The cross liberates us from the burden of behaviorism and shows us that redemption comes not from what we do, but Who we know.