Here’s my second instalment from Leo Tolstoy’s “Divine and Human”. It is about two women who go to an old saint to learn from him. One woman thought of herself as a terrible sinner – she had cheated on her husband when younger. She told the old man about it, and felt that she could never be forgiven. The other woman said she couldn’t think of any particular sin to confess. She had live by the law, and not committed any serious sin. He told the first woman to find the biggest stone she could carry and bring it to him. He told the second woman to find as many small stones as she could carry. The women did as he instructed. The old man looked at their stones and told them to put them back where they had found them. The first woman with the large stone found this easy – she knew exactly where she had got it from. The second woman didn’t have a clue, so she returned to the old man with her sack of little stones. Here comes the clincher. The man says to the first woman as she remembered where the big stone came from, likewise she remembered her great sin, and bore reproach from herself and others. She was humbled and therefore could be forgiven. The second woman could not remember where she found each stone. He said to her,
“It is the same with your sins. You have sinned in small ways many times. You do not remember those sins, did not confess them and grew used to a life of sin. In addition, through condemning the sins of others, you have sinned more and more.”
Ouch. Most of the time I think of myself as a basically good person. I don’t feel weighed down by sin in my life. I have repented and sought forgiveness for sins along the way, but right now I think I would be like the second woman – nothing stands out exceptionally to me. I think I would have gathered smallish stones, not really being aware of the need to gather a boulder or two. I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way. Could we be inoculated against sin? This man raises a valid point – if we are used to sinning in “small” ways, we could become accustomed and blinded to them. Hmm… a bit like the pharisees whose sins were hidden and of the heart. Interestly this is a bit of a stumbling block at times to people who do not know Jesus. “Why should I be saved?” they may ask. “I am a good person”. We are pretty sensitive to the so-called big stones – infidelity, murder, theft etc, but rather numbed to the “smaller stones” – of greed, selfishness, sins of the heart. Jesus was not. He made a point with stones too.