A big difference between juvenile fiction and adult fiction is the complexity of the characters. In most juvenile fiction, there are two fairly clear groups: “good guys” and “bad guys.” There are heroes, whom we root for, and villains, whom we root against. Good guy-bad guy stories are fun to read and easy to understand. They do little to illuminate truth about the human condition, however.
The mythology of Santa Claus follows a similarly simplistic breakdown of the world. According to the songs, Mr. Claus divides all the children of the world into two camps: naughty and nice. The nice children get toys, the naughty ones get coal. Not that I have ever heard of children whose parents had the heart to follow through with the threat of coal in return for bad behavior, but still, that’s what we say.
For the Christian, Santa represents one way of viewing the world. Santa may know if you have been “naughty or nice,” but all he can see is your external behavior. He can tell whether you did chores or threw a tantrum, but he has no way of knowing why you did either of these things. To him, the child who does chores is good and deserving of a reward while the child who throws a tantrum is bad and punishable. It’s simple. Too simple. A worldview which breaks the world down into camps of “naughty and nice” people, like Santa’s list, does not, and cannot, address the heart.
The same is true of our judgment of each other. On their website
Mark Driscoll and the guys up at Mars Hill church in Seattle say this:
Religion says that the world is filled with good people and bad people. The gospel says that the world is filled with bad people who are either repentant or unrepentant.
People who understand the gospel understand that we are all more alike than we are different. They consider the sin in their own hearts as more weighty than the sinful behavior they see in the people around them.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Timothy 1:15
The Bible, thank God, does not fundamentally follow a good guy-bad guy/naughty-nice dichotomy. Its anthropology is much more sophisticated. Like good novels and honest biographies, the Bible exposes the contradictory truths about the human heart through both evocative story-telling and well-reasoned teaching.
It does make distinctions between the “righteous” and the “wicked,” especially when speaking of things such as oppression, abuse, and other evils perpetuated by people who have no reverence for God or people. We also must make such distinctions, as people concerned with holiness, justice, and righting the world’s wrongs. God forbid that we “call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20) for the sake of appearing non-judgmental.
But we may not leave it at that. God says, look at yourself. Look into your own heart and see the evil there; if your circumstances have prevented you from seeing the darker side of your own depravity, consider what you might be like had you grown up differently and lived in someone else’s shoes. We’re more alike than we are different.
David, a man who wrote often about the wickedness of the wicked and the righteousness of the righteous nonetheless referred to himself as “feeble and crushed” under the weight of his own sin (Psalm 32:8). He stole another man’s wife and conspired the man’s murder; his children committed rape and murder against each other, largely because of his monumental failures as a father; throughout his life the man was prone to lust, pride, fear, and complacency.
Why would human authors, on their own, choose to include such despicable details of the life of their greatest king and hero? For that matter, why would David publish his private poems of confessional prayer, to be read and studied throughout his nation? Even today we are still studying his failures and confessions.
It is because the Bible’s anthropology does not fundamentally break the world down into good guys and bad guys, or naughty children and nice children. “No one is nice, no, not one” (paraphrasing Romans 3:10). All need atonement and grace; none are disqualified from receiving it.
Jesus makes Santa’s list irrelevant. That’s the gospel. As my pastor loves to say, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” Or, since it’s almost Christmas, “The ground is level at the foot the feeding trough.”
Gospel people treat Santa’s list as irrelevant too. That’s the gospel applied. No more treating outsiders as outsiders, as people who will never “get it,” or as people who need to clean up their act (and appearance) before they come to church.
Such Santa-ish thinking is exactly the opposite of what the church is here for.