Like millions of Americans, I tuned in to the Super Bowl halftime show, and I saw exactly what you saw: The scantily-clad pop stars. The bumping and grinding bordering on the pornographic. The obscene onstage contrast between a stripper pole and young children.
As a Christian and as a member of the human race, I was grieved by the blatant hypocrisy on full display; a #metoo culture glorifying the very objectification of women it purports to stand against.
DISCLAIMER: At this point some might want to categorically dismiss my voice as that of another un-woke white male, ignorant of the plight of women & minorities. Please do not misunderstand. The purpose of this article is not to critique the performers themselves (though no culture, even the marginalized ones, are ever beyond critique). Rather it is to point out what the collective Christian reaction to their performance indicates about the human heart. Praise God for the beautiful and too-often-marginalized cross-section of humanity that we saw on-stage and rarely get the chance to celebrate! But this article is not about that. It’s about you and I, not J. Lo & Shakira.
Scrolling through my social media feed in the opening minutes of the second half of the Super Bowl, I encountered post after angry post, people outraged at the performance they had just witnessed. And all of this outrage was directed one way: Outward.
But here’s what I didn’t see. I didn’t see outrage directed at the root of the problem: Inward. I saw no one outraged at the sin in their own heart. I saw no one beating their breast and repenting of their lustful thoughts and desires, the very thing that made such an event possible. I saw no one in sackcloth and ashes confessing sorrow at their own brokenness. I saw no one posting, “Father, forgive me for my tendency to chase after forbidden fruit; to seek that which is not freely given and is not mine to have. I am utterly outraged at my own objectifying heart, and I am truly sorry.”
What a Super Bowl halftime show like this reveals—and what no one wants to talk about—is that our own hearts are, as Jeremiah puts it (Jeremiah 17:9), “deceitful above all things and desperately sick, who can understand [them]?” It is all too easy to ignore the inconvenient truth that the reason scantily clad women will parade across a stage is because of the desires within our own hearts. Perhaps the reason we get so outraged at these kinds of public spectacles is because they remind us that we, too, are complicit. If the human heart were not so inwardly warped and hell-bent on satisfying its own carnal cravings, there would be no audience for such displays. If sin wasn’t so appealing, it wouldn’t be in such high demand.
In the deepest cracks and crevices of our hearts, the places we’re too scared to explore, the terrifying truth is lurking: We actually want to take a bite of the apple. It’s shiny. It’s beautiful. And it looks so good. But rather than direct our attention INWARD, at the real problem, we’d rather direct it OUTWARD. It’s much easier to crucify others than to confess our own desperate need for forgiveness, and we’d rather do anything than admit that the default, out-of-the-box condition of our own hearts is no different than those we see on the big screen. We all stand, every moment, equally in need of grace.
Outrage at sin is always proper, and if we ever cease to be astounded at the path of destruction it continually leaves in its wake, we have surely lost our way. But outrage has to work both ways: INWARD as well as OUTWARD. If I’m not as outraged by my own failings as I am by those of my neighbor, then something is deeply wrong. In fact, Jesus had a special word for people like that: Hypocrites. Here’s what He says in Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Directing all of our outrage at the problems “out there” allows us to ignore the problem “in here”—in our own hearts. We’re good. They’re bad. End of story. And that means we don’t have to do the hard and painful work of looking unflinchingly into the mirror. Because if we did, the haunted, pock-marked reflection staring back at us would look eerily similar to those we are always so ready to demonize.
Our outrage at the culture around us should always be overshadowed by our outrage at the darkness within us. And ultimately, only an outrage of another kind is able to overcome the darkness; the outrage of grace. Grace is—in a very real sense—utterly outrageous, because grace comes only to those who deserve wrath and punishment and condemnation. That is to say, it only comes to sinners. In other words, being a sinner is a prerequisite to God’s grace. Grace comes only to those lost and dead in their trespasses, unable to save themselves, and it comes purely in the form of a gift. And it is precisely this “gift” nature that is so utterly outrageous to our human sensibilities, which always demand a pound of flesh and insist that people pay for their sins. But grace says that we don’t have to pay. In fact, the only currency acceptable is the blood of another, paid in full and on our behalf. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says it this way: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard anything more outrageous than that.