Well, now, are you a mole or a soul? I want you to identify yourself, clearly and unequivocally, are you a mole or a soul?
I suppose that does require a bit of explanation. A mole is a little creature that lives out its life underground, in the darkness, endlessly burrowing to and fro and making humps in my yard. A mole is a creature that loves the darkness.
But a soul, that’s quite different. A soul is that aspect of a human being that makes us authentically human. A soul is that attribute – and I do not want to say “part”, because it is not a biological appendage somewhere in the body – a soul is that attribute that feels and loves and hates and sings and creates and dances and swears and – you get the picture. Souls have passion and power and potential. Souls love the daylight. Souls love their freedom.
So now, which is it? Are you a mole or a soul? The answer seems obvious, doesn’t it? But maybe not. Maybe we whom God intended to be souls have instead become moles.
Jesus spoke of those who love darkness rather than light. He suggested that many of us choose darkness, burrowing in, rather than light and freedom. Jesus suggested that some have become moles rather than souls.
And, what is more, Jesus even offers an analysis of why this is so.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
We love darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil. Let’s think about this “evil” business. Do we love darkness? Are we doing evil deeds? What is that all about? Let me paint a picture.
I know a person, well educated, professional, having had advantages along the way, including spiritual nurture in a solid church and in a deeply religious family. She has every reason to live with joy. But she does not. Instead she lives in misery. This woman gets into conflicts wherever she goes. Her employer – so much so that they released her, and she’s been in litigation for years. Her marriage – conflicted, finally a divorce, though she pines for every scrap of news about her ex-husband and his new family and cannot let go. Her health – compromised, overweight, hardly even mobile, a heavy smoker. Her family – she did not speak to her sister for more than twenty years. Her home – literally like a mole-burrow, in that she keeps every paper, every scrap that comes in, and therefore walks gingerly through the paths, trying not to step on something that might be valuable but probably isn’t. Her spirituality – nostalgic, not having been a part of her home church for years, but still sending contributions out of an inheritance. Sometimes, if the pastor near where she lives invites her and pushes a bit, she will worship there, but not often. Her relationships – she chose to take into her home and into her intimacy a homeless man of dubious reputation, and that did not work out either. Would you agree with me that she is a mole and not really a soul? She lives in disarray and has chosen to shut herself off from fulfillment. She loves darkness rather than light because her deeds are evil.
And if you say that evil is too strong a word, that evil refers to cruelty and vicious schemes and horrific atrocities, then I have to say that sometimes evil masquerades as banality. Sometimes evil looks like sheer boredom. Sometimes evil is just ordinariness, wasting what God has given us. Loving darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil.
Ah, but you think my portrait sounds extreme. You think, “That’s not me. I don’t live that way.” All right, but let’s not be too sure yet that we are not moles. Let’s not be so certain that we have not loved darkness rather than light.
A man burrows into his job, day after day, night after night, doing nothing but work, work, work. Is it about being overloaded? Probably not. Is it about trying to impress the supervisor? Not really. Is it about investing in something that is beneficial to others? Unlikely. When someone becomes a workaholic and can think of nothing but work, work, and more work, then he is living like a mole, shutting out the light, relinquishing his freedom, all in response to a deep down something that says, “You’re not good enough. You have to be better. You have to earn your right to be somebody.” And the more we hear that insistent inner voice the more we discover that it is an evil thing. It is a voice that will destroy us eventually, that voice that says, “You’re no good. Work, work, work, mole, mole, mole.” That’s the way evil operates. I can give you personal testimony to that. It’s easy for workaholics to become moles and not souls!
Still don’t like that picture? Try this. Someone else burrows into her church, week after week, Sunday after Sunday, doing nothing but church meetings and church work and church business and church stuff. What’s that about? Is that about extending the Kingdom? Is that about obeying the Great Commission? Is that about loving the Lord and serving Him day and night in His temple? It may look like it. It may look like holiness personified. But it is not! It is not Kingdom business if it keeps us hunkered down inside the walls of the church instead of engaging the world with a witness. You’ve heard of church mice? Well, there are also church moles – people who use their religion as a means to escape from the world God loves. What does John 3:16 say that God loves? “God so loved the world ….” And when you escape from the world God loves to burrow into church life, you are a mole and not a soul. Even church becomes evil. Evil because it looks so good and so inviting, but all that churchiness soaks up our energies and takes us away from being light. Church moles and not real souls.
You are still not convinced, are you? If my portrait sounded extreme, if you are not a workaholic, if you do not obsess on religion, fine. Good. But I’ll bet you can find your own examples. Think about people who lose themselves in lesser loyalties. Think about those who pour themselves into bar-hopping, who live for bed-swapping, who lust for power. Ponder those for whom adding up wealth is everything, those for whom social status means success. Find your own examples. But agree with Jesus that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. So
we turn into moles, burrowing obsessively into darkness, and it all turns into an evil that possesses and controls us. We become moles instead of souls!
Now go deeper with me. Go deeper, in fact, with Jesus. Jesus speaks of judgment. He says, “This is the judgment ….” There are consequences for being moles instead of souls. There is judgment for living under the thumb of evil and loving darkness rather than light. When we give ourselves to some obsessive behavior, some unworthy lifestyle, there is a price to pay. We are meant by God to be souls, breathing free air, living in the light, soaring. But so many of us are not. We are moles instead of souls, and that means consequences.
The name of the consequences, in Christian parlance, is hell. Judgment and hell. Jesus names that judgment:
“ … those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Heavy-duty stuff, right? Condemned? Judgment? Hell? Pastor, are you turning into a hell-fire and brimstone preacher? We don’t DO that in OUR church!
Well, yes I am, but not in the way you may think. For it is not about hell as a lake of fire that I speak, but of hell as separation and alienation. Hell is being so out of fellowship with God that we cannot even see the light for what it is. Hell is being so alienated from God, so estranged from others, and so out of touch with ourselves that we do not even understand how much trouble we are in. Hell is not what God does to us so much as what we do to ourselves.
Forget those mental images we grew up with. Hell is not some cavern of fire that swallows up those who are of the wrong religion or who have not been baptized or who have not properly prayed the sinner’s prayer. God does not send people to condemnation for religious deficiencies. No, we send ourselves to condemnation because we do not trust the one, the only one, who has the light. We do not listen to the one, the only one, who has the word of truth. We want to go it on our own and handle our lives on our own terms. Hell, condemnation, is not the result of God’s arbitrary rules; hell is the description of what we do to ourselves when we decide to be moles instead of souls, choosing to be blind instead of sighted. Hell is what we do to ourselves when we burrow down into the darkness of evil rather than fly in the sunshine of His face.
Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote, “Hell is other people”. Well, I’m sorry, sir, but you are dead wrong. Hell is not other people. Hell is you, hell is me, hell is each one of us who chooses to live in isolation, pretending to be the captains of our own fate and the guardians of our own souls. Hell is what Thoreau described when he said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them. They are moles and not souls.
Jesus said that those who do not believe are condemned already. What a verdict! What a self-inflicted wound, to give up what God wants us to be – free and passionate, powerful and glorious – to give all that up to be moles, scrambling around for nothing more than dirt!
And so I call you today to be what God has created you to be. I call you to be a soul. I summon you to be a person in love with life, in fellowship with others, and in partnership with God.
How can I proclaim this good news for you? How can I lift you out of moleness and make you see? For the very essence of our human problem is that we have burrowed in the blahs so long that we cannot even see the possibilities our Creator places before us. Like moles with very poor eyesight we are spiritually constricted, and just cannot envision what our God wants to do in us.
But Jesus envisions it for us. Jesus spells out our soulness. Having identified our moleness, Jesus opens us up to our soulness and shows us what we can have.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Listen to that! God is not about condemnation. God is not about punishment. God is about salvation. God is about love. God is about life, full-force life, eternal life. Elsewhere in the Gospel of John Jesus says that He has come that we might have life and have it abundantly. He has come that we might be souls, full and free and passionate and powerful. And eternal. Everlasting. What a gift! What a joy! If we can receive it!
When you come to Christ, you see, everything changes. The very essence of who you are as a human being is given vitality. When you come to Christ, personal power surges from you, and you feel free. Your creativity is heightened. Your relationships are transformed. Even your daily agenda, that long list of things you think you need to do, is put into a new perspective. If you know Christ, you are no longer a mole, but a soul. How does the Bible put it? “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away; all things are become new.”
This past Tuesday we noted the 200th anniversary of the birth of the composer Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was born into a family with deep spiritual roots. His grandfather Moses Mendelssohn was a rabbi and a philosopher. But Felix’s parents, evidently for reasons of social standing, took Felix and their other children to a Christian church to get them baptized. They wanted their children to avoid the anti-semitism of 19th Century Germany. But for young Felix, this was not just a social statement. This became real. This became authentic. This young man came to know Christ, and what creativity resulted! The Reformation Symphony built on the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress.” The oratorios “Elijah” and “St. Paul.” An organ sonata fashioned on the Lord’s Prayer – so much creativity, so much life, so much soul, and it was unleashed by Christ.
In the Netherlands, in the 17th Century, a young painter was stumbling through life, surrounding himself with wine, women, and song. Look at Rembrandt’s early self-portraits, and they are the face of an indulgent young man. But things changed. Rembrandt married, but he and his wife lost three of their four children quite young. Then his wife too died, and Rembrandt’s self-portraits, of which he did many, became full of brooding and depression. Everyone noticed how dark his paintings were, and how much they seemed to point to a troubled spirit. Troubled he was indeed, with lawsuits and bad debts and promiscuous behavior. But in his later years Rembrandt started to paint scenes from the New Testament, especially scenes from the life of Jesus. Look at them and you will see a life being transformed. This masterful artist began to see Christ Jesus for who He really is. Rembrandt the moody mole slowly but surely became a shining soul. He gave us a painting of Mary Magdalene, contemplating her sin, but with a glowing light shining behind her, the light of forgiveness. And a painting of Peter, tortured by his denials, but lifted up by the light from Jesus’ face. And a painting of Paul, one of my favorites, where the one who had once persecuted believers now sits writing his grand epistles, and there is a warm light shining around his face. Do you get it? Rembrandt, coming to Christ, gave us paintings that send one central message – that the light shines in darkness and darkness cannot put it out. It is light eternal, life eternal. It is from Christ. It is everything.
And in our own time, in our own community: did you see last night the television presentation called “Gifted Hands”? “Gifted Hands” is the story of Ben Carson. Ben started out on the streets in a tough neighborhood where the schools were poor and expectations low. He might easily have just disappeared into the void as yet another urban disaster. In fact, at one point, he took a knife in his hand and was intent on stabbing another young man. But into Ben Carson’s life came Jesus Christ, who banished the disaster and made something spectacular. Now Ben Carson is a stellar surgeon, handling pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, saving the lives of precious children. The gifted hands that once were about to destroy another life now wield scalpels to save lives. All because our God so loves this world that He gave us Christ, and no one need be condemned, but all may have life, life abundant, life eternal. No longer moles, but souls.
Are you feeling that you are in deep darkness? Are you feeling hopeless and disempowered? Do you feel rather like that grubby little animal that just plows through the dirt, day after day after endless day, and at the end of it all, there is nothing to show for it but a tunnel with no light at the end?
Then I urge you to come to Christ Jesus. I urge you to find in Him a friend like no other. I plead with you to stop all this self-management stuff and to tear down that self-sufficiency façade. For in Him and through Him comes everything that matters. In Him and through Him comes a zest for life and a passion for truth. In Christ, through Christ, because of Christ, you can know what it means to be thrilled to be alive, and even better, you can know that it won’t end tonight, it won’t end next month, it won’t end next year. It won’t end. The promise is for eternal life – full, substantial, and abundant.
I ask again: are you a mole or a soul? The answer seemed obvious a few minutes ago. Maybe it is not quite as obvious now. But one thing is clear: our God wants to make us into souls, full and free, passionate and powerful. One thing shines in the light: that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be merely a mole but may be a soul, an eternal soul.