The sentence comes from Paul of Tarsus, one of the people most responsible for spreading Christianity throughout the Mediterranean.
In one of his letters to churches he helped create, Paul wrote “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
Huh? Reactions to this can range from bewilderment to indignant rejection. When I first encountered this sentence, I had these responses. But something kept tugging at me, so I puzzled and pulled at it until these facts emerged:
1. Yes, we have all fallen short, somehow, of achieving the hopes and dreams God has for every single person on this planet. Even the people most idolized by North American society – Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, the late Steve Jobs, U2, Brad Pitt, the late Mother Teresa – could list regrets or occasions where they dropped the ball. If they can’t, then I’ll be bold and declare they are fooling themselves.
2. Paul is being universal. Notice how he doesn’t say “please see the end of this letter for a list of exceptions.” Or, “the following groups have sinned a little less (or more)…”. No, he simple makes the statement and gets out.
So, what does this mean for all humanity? One inescapable, controversial truth: the intrinsic value of every person that ever was, is and will be is identical. That’s right, folks: my intrinsic value is the same as Pope Francis. And Billy Graham’s value is the same as the late Osama Bin Laden.
Are you recoiling in horror? I wouldn’t be surprised. Our culture encourages us to judge others by their deeds and “status”. You see it all the time, such as when professional athletes are allowed to “jump the cue” and get flu shots before the rest of us.
But I don’t think deeds and status are the barometer for God. I believe He loves us not for who we are or what we’ve done, but because He is love. He invented it and another quote in the Bible tells us God so loved the world – and that means everyone on it – that he gave his only son (Jesus Christ) and whoever believes in and seriously follows the son will go on living even after his or her body dies.
That statement doesn’t say God loved some people more than others. Like Paul’s sentence, it simply says He loves and that’s it.
Is there a challenge for us here? You bet. Think about this:
- Would the 1994 genocide in Rwanda have occurred if we all took Paul’s words seriously?
- Would the Nazis have carried out the Holocaust if they agreed with Paul?
- Would there ever have been the horrific “honour killings” of women that still occur in Pakistan and India (and even in Canada!)?
- What about the Hindu caste system that condemns some people to a life of poverty? Would it exist if Paul’s words resonated in the Hindu faith?
I know I stand condemned for things thought and done (or not done) because I haven’t always lived up to the facts behind St. Paul’s simple sentence. But as long as that sentence exists, there is hope for me. For you. For this world. Do you agree? Post your response below and let’s have a conversation.