Sometimes I like to share with young people how our culture has changed over time. Depending upon the person, it can be difficult for some to hear that moral standards were actually different. It is even more difficult if the person has bought into the idea that all sin is the same, as if to say, the hardhearted and cruel criminal is exactly like the most softhearted and tender mother type, who could not hurt a flea.
In reality, all cultures and generations are no more exactly alike than are individual people. In Judges chapter 2 we see that each succeeding generation following the death of Joshua became worse and worse in practice and the stubbornness of their heart. The chapter could be summed up by the verse, “But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways” (Judges 2:19, emphasis added).
We had a young couple over the house one time and as we started to talk about the changing times, and the wife agreed with the things that I was saying. I was amazed at first and asked her how she came to such a mature understanding of things. She told us that during one of her course studies she had to observe character development in movies over the decades from the 30’s until present day. She further said that she had to stop by the time she got to the 90’s because it became too depressing for her as she observed the decline of American culture during the 20th century.
Such a decline had been underway for 5 decades when the movie Ransom hit the silver screen. A remake of this movie by the same title was made in 1996, starring Mel Gibson, and directed by Ron Howard. In both movies a business man’s son is kidnapped. Of course the circumstances rock the parents and drive them to despair. In the remake the dad is not without his shortcomings and is not above breaking a law or 2.
As remakes go, this film combines drama with some action scenes and makes it predictably entertaining. However, the remake is only like the former movie in the fact that there is a kidnapping, and both decide to not pay the ransom.
The original 1956 movie starring Glenn Ford (D.G. Stannard) and Donna Reed was double the drama and none of the action. It was also double the drama because of the very high level of acting that was achieved. In this movie the parents by present day standards are squeaky clean. It is a lot like ‘Father knows best’ or ‘Leave it to beaver’, but that’s exactly the way I remember the 50’s.
The 50’s movie is not just about entertainment, intrigue, action, and drama; it raises the question of right and wrong. As the CEO of a large vacuum company, D.G. Stannard is used to making important decisions that affect hundreds of people.
With the kidnapping of his son, he is called upon to make a decision about a subject that he knows nothing about. Therefore, he asks 2 men that are very familiar with this crime – a police chief and newspaper reporter.
The first thing that he is told is that it is illegal to pay ransom money. I found the following concerning the payment of ransom money under U.S. Code > Title 18 > Part 1 > Chapter 55 > § 1202.
a) “Whoever receives, possesses, or disposes of any money or property, or any portion thereof, which at any time has been delivered as ransom or reward in connection with a violation of section 1201 of this title, knowing the same to be money or property which has been at any time delivered as such ransom or reward, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”
It would seem that the United States government, at least at one time, thought it so wrong to pay money or property as a ransom that they attached a very high penalty for such actions. In the movie D.G. Stannard asked the chief, “Why do you allow people to pay?” To which he replies, “How long do you think I would keep my job if I kept a person from paying a ransom to get their child back?” The public outcry is to pay a ransom for loved ones, no matter what the law says. There is something to be said about changing times just in that reality.
When considering what course of action he should take, D.G. asks about the odds of getting his son returned. He is shocked to hear that he could pay and not get him back or he could refuse to pay and get him back. The major witness to the kidnapping is his son and as a witness the kidnappers would be nervous about letting him live. By paying the ransom he could be buying his son’s death. His response is “Then why pay?”
In the original movie the father comes to the conclusion that the only responsible thing to do is not pay the ransom money. He comes to realize that the person who pays ransom money helps to motivate future kidnappers by providing them the riches they greedily seek. Therefore, D.G. decides, in spite of the possible consequences to his son, not pay the ransom.
For D.G. the whole matter boils down to what is the right thing to do. It is at this point that the 2 movies diverge, and I think I can add public opinion. In the remake it is more about revenge and a man who was used to getting his own way, doing everything it takes to get his son back.
However, in the first movie it becomes as much about not passing the heinous experience of having your son taken on to some other unsuspecting parents as it is about getting his own son back. If such a thing would even happen is not the point of argument in this blog, but even that a person would write such a thing, proves the heights of morality that man can conceive of even in his fallen condition.
Self sacrifice is the highest of all Christian virtues, which is what makes the love of Christ so valuable.
Even though D.G. looses the respect of his brother, wife, employees, and the public he will not turn from what he believes to be the right thing to do. Only the police chief, the news reporter, and his butler (A religious man) stay faithful to a man that they believe wants to do the right thing.
The Christian community, and I am using that term very loosely, is the guardian of the truth, and there is an understanding among them that man is guilty before God, and worthy of the fires of hell, from the smallest sin committed unwittingly and without malice or intent, to the largest sins of forethought and malicious brutality, that are perpetrated upon masses of peoples.
Such a teaching can be verified in many places, such as, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10) Furthermore, sin begins in the heart and it is in the heart that a man is guilty before God. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
However, just because men are guilty before a perfect and holy God down to the smallest jot or tittle of the law, does not mean that all sin is exactly the same, or the effects that such a sin has upon the human heart in the course of a lifetime.
Furthermore, there are sins that men commit against one another, and then there is the truth that all sin is primarily and ultimately committed against God. It is sin as an act of rebellion and idolatry against God and His kingdom that is all condemning. To understand this principle well a person must understand the nature and person of God properly.
God is infinitely greater in knowledge, power, and presence, and He is eternal, but more importantly He is infinitely greater in holiness and goodness than we are. Therefore, sinning against Him has an infinitely greater penalty attached to it. That is what James meant when he wrote that to break the law at one point is to break all the law. It is not breaking the law that is the primary issue but sinning against the One within whom the law originates and abides.
Therefore, James continues, “For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” (James 2:11) The relevant phrases are “For He who said”, and “…also said…” James is pointing to a person in these phrases and not some impersonal standard of law. Furthermore, he is pointing to not just any person but to the ultimate and eternal person of God Himself.
So while the Bible states that the guilt produced by each and every sin is equally worthy of condemnation before the eternal God, it also clearly declares that sin changes us, our hearts, and our character over time. So in conclusion, consider the following verses as a Biblical statement of the changing state of men, cultures, and nations as they go from bad to worse over time.
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:21, emphasis added)
“Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:24, 25, emphasis added)
“For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,” (Romans 1:26, emphasis added)
“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:28-32, emphasis added)
“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.” (Matthew 10: 14, 15, emphasis added)
If all sin carries the exact same weight of guilt and judgment, how could Jesus say it would be more tolerable for anyone?
The rejection of light carries greater weight of guilt in the economy of God. To turn away from the light of conscience brings guilt before God. To turn away from the light provided by God’s special revelation as revealed in His law brings even greater guilt. To turn away from the light of the gospel brings the greatest condemnation of all.
In the context of Hebrews chapter 10, Jesus came in the prophecy of the testament of God to a body prepared for Him. In that body He took to Himself the sins of all the men for whom He would die. He was the sacrificial Lamb slain for the sins of the world. To reject the knowledge that we are worthy of hell, and therefore need Christ’s substitutionary death on our behalf, by thinking we are good enough to merit heaven by our own merit, is a sin of sins against the revelation of God in the Gospel. Hear these words.
“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:26-31, emphasis added)
Not all sin is the same before God, neither is the light of the truth, and people do change from one generation to the next. God is the only One worthy to judge such things, and we will do best if we leave such matters in His capable hands. Let us be ready for that Day of Judgment.