“Mommy, Christmas is NOT coming!” was the cry of a wicked little person in the checkout line ahead of me. He was hunkered into a shopping cart (for which he was far too big), tears dribbling down to his chin as he screamed for a Pez dispenser. His mother’s assurances that “Christmas is coming”—implying that the little cretin’s patience would be rewarded—did nothing to assuage him.
When I heard his claim that the calendar was not, in fact, advancing toward the 25th, and that the world was, in fact, glued to the present moment, I laughed out loud…as did some others. When I got home, I wrote down the statement on a pink, dollar store brand post-it note because I sensed it contained some hidden meaning: “Christmas is not coming.”
Later in the week, I realized what it was. The boy had not been making an emotional statement about the long distance of time until Christmas, claiming that two whole weeks felt to him like the same thing as its never coming at all. Rather, he was being sincere. Certainly, had you asked him whether he thought that clocks had literally stopped or that the earth’s orbit had unexpectedly taken it into a black hole, the rational part of his soul would have prompted him to admit that the statement was false. “I was exaggerating,” he might have said. But that would have been a lie. In that split second, when the desire for the Pez dispenser crowded out all other things in his universe, this boy believed that Christmas was not coming. I know this because I have thought the same thing myself—and this was the hidden meaning in his pretentious, ridiculous statement.
In the instant that I want what I want, I believe that no other good thing is coming—Christmas or otherwise. My hungry parts tell me this, even though my rational parts know differently. When given the choice between the Pez now, or a dozen Christmas presents two weeks from now, I often choose the Pez. But—and this was my crucial realization—this is not merely the delusion that one gift is greater than another, for that would simply be an error of judgment on a question of market value, which would certainly be ignorant but would not be evil, in that it at least reflects the kind of decision-making human beings ought to be doing. No, it is the denial that those other gifts even exist. In a moment of total cupidity, this child had shown me the essence of sin.
Sin may go under the guise of “instant gratification,” or of “having it my way,” but this boy showed me its naked form: The blind evil of denying that any other enjoyment exists, or can exist, aside from the thing that I happen to covet most at the present moment. Our first father and mother looked at the fruit and said that God was NOT going to bless them for obedience…or at least that it would not be worth it. David looked at Bathsheba and said that he did NOT have a wife already. A young Christian who indulges in sexual sin is saying (probably disappointedly) that there is NOT a fulfilling marriage in his future. Someone who drinks to excess is saying that an evening of non-drunkenness is NOT enjoyable (and simultaneously, though this statement is an inverse of the little boy’s, that a hangover is NOT coming). Sin is the imbecile denial that the next day, with either its consequences or its rewards, is not coming. For someone indulging covetousness, time is stopped.
But the wickedness of this denial is twofold and its even deeper layer is something probably even the boy in the cart was too frantic to be consciously aware of; deep in his soul he was not only denying the existence of all future enjoyments…he was actually also denying the existence of God. This attitude that whatever thing we are most absorbed in is the most important thing in the world (I am sure that the boy’s attention shifted to something else when he got home), is a much weightier statement than we may give it credit for being; this child declared, for everyone to hear, that the physical limitations of his brain (created to hold a finite number of ideas, and further limited by the Fall in this capacity) encompassed the entire universe, and that NOTHING existed outside of his momentary appetite. But only God is He outside of whom there is nothing. This sinner had made himself the measuring stick by which all other things must be judged. And I propose that the nature of sin is not the mere action of disobeying your mother, nor even of bringing embarrassment upon her in a store, but the embracing of a worldview which places not just oneself at the center of the universe, but makes oneself its boundaries, too.
Of course, our rage explodes when other people do not play along in this fantasy—when our mother tells us that such a thing as Christmas should dare to give us what we ask in its own time. There can be no Christmas, we say—there can be no future, no rewards, no meaning, and no good thing—in a world where we cannot get what we want. More sophisticated people have pointed to the horrifying suffering and evil of this world and concluded that God does not exist, but they are overstating their case to a ridiculous degree. For us, in everyday life, the mere non-having of a Pez dispenser is proof enough.