I have wanted a Jeep Wrangler since I was seven years old. Obviously it would be red, not with a hard top, but with a cloth top. You might think this preference impractical given the winters of the Midwest—where I grew up—but, the cloth top is clearly superior. The cloth top allows you to cruise around lake country, blaring your jams (aviators optional), without a care in the world. Well, I take that back, there is one care: the Jeep Wrangler itself. Don’t mess it up. It’s not some 30-year-old pickup you “borrowed” to go muddin’ from your Grandpa’s farm. You don’t drive the Wrangler down a road that’s just been sealed, either, because that loose tar will destroy it. There are rules to keep the Wrangler in good shape.
Some people may argue that Wranglers were built for roughing it, and mud, scratches and dents which mar them over the years are simply signs of use. The fact is, though, they look best not when they’re covered with mud, but when they’re factory new. Just look at the Jeep website if you doubt me. The pictures Jeep displays on its site show gleaming, pristine vehicles climbing over rocks surrounded by pine trees.
It’s all well and good to have this conversation about Jeep Wranglers, that is, about whether or not it’s proper to be dirty. What if we asked this question about humanity, though? What if we start talking about people, rather than Jeep Wranglers, or sin, instead of mud, scratches and dents?
There’s an all-too-common phrase that people use when they want to pardon someone’s faults. “It’s only human,” they say. Of course if we take this to mean, “people sin,” then I voice no objection. Mud and gravel typically mar the Jeep Wrangler, and sin, since the fall of Adam and Eve, mars the human condition.
But sin cannot be a defining characteristic of what it means to be human. In an interview with Beliefnet, the shock rock musician Marilyn Manson once said,
All the seven deadly sins are man’s true nature. To be greedy. To be hateful. To have lust. Of course, you have to control them, but if you’re made to feel guilty for being human, then you’re going to be trapped in a never-ending sin-and-repent cycle that you can’t escape from.
Manson speaks of the depths of human depravity, but his perspective on it all is just as depraved. For, indeed, we don’t delight in sin, because it ruins us. The best Jeep Wrangler is one without scratches, and our humanity is the same way. The problem with Manson’s thinking above is that he believes sin is somehow integral to what it means to be human. Sin may be a reality, something which sullies the present human condition, but that’s all it is. Sin is a blight; it’s not who men and women were meant to be.
Advent is restorative therapy for our mangled souls. Escaping from cycles of sin and vice is impossible on our own, but the message of Advent is the coming grace of the Word, the grace of Jesus Christ. Faith in God’s providence can be had. Chastity is possible. We can live divine charity. We can grow in grace and virtue. But only if we open our hearts to cooperate with the work God can do in us.