In Part One, we discovered the central fact about corruption, namely, that it lies within each human being by virtue of the reality of original sin. Thus, efforts to control and bridle this global “beast” will not succeed if we merely rely upon policy, economic, or legal solutions; rather, we must find a way to control the problem within each of us. Part Two aims to not only demonstrate the full impact of personal corruption, but also the ultimate hope for controlling and bridling it.
What are some ways that this deep vein of corruption and sin affects us? I have suggested there are four ways that all start with the English letter “D:” derangement, deception, diminishment, and, lastly, distortion.
Derangement leads us to turn in upon ourselves, not outward to others, as a great Christian writer, St Augustine described. Our sinfully corrupt hearts become so obsessed with our own satisfactions that we begin to act like we never thought we would: selfish, demanding, whining.
Perhaps you think to yourself: “Oh, I am not that way at all, for I am so concerned for others and to make them feel good.” But, I wonder about the secret ways we pretend to be loyal to our group when in fact we are very selfish. I have seen myself practice this deception, so that others think me kind when in fact I am very selfish. This second “D” is a very subtle, but important form of personal corruption.
Another way that sin reveals itself is through the way it diminishes our capacities to be fully human: taking responsibility for our world, exercising wise creativity, and working to be productive so that we can benefit our community. The Hebrew and Greek words that are translated “corrupt” imply great loss through rottenness or spoilage. You may not be aware of it now, but we all lose something when sinful corruption rues our lives, no matter how secretly.
Finally, distortion, the fourth “D.” We do not see as clearly as we ought, but we see a distorted picture of reality. Think how corruption distorts reality: the price of things is not what it should be because someone has taken a secret payoff from a contractor who elevated the price of a road for example. In turn, the actual product or service is distorted because of corruption. When I travel in many places in the world where corruption is extremely prevalent, an asphalt road may only have one inch of asphalt, which is completely inadequate and which breaks down very quickly.
Sin works inside us in the same way: We do not see the world as we ought because sin distorts our mental vision.
I have to tell you that the research is clear: The nations that were founded on the Biblical idea of human sinfulness as inner corruption and that were bridled by the Cross of Christ stand out for their relative lack of corruption. Out of the 180 nations around the world that are measured on the Corruption Perceptions Index, 8 out of 10 of the least corrupt are historically Protestant. The US is the 22nd least corrupt country, which means we are no longer Puritans, but compared to most nations, we live in paradise.
Can you imagine the common feature among 5 out of 10 of the most corrupt? Islam. But you see, Islam has no teaching about original sin, and, likewise, no teaching about a Savior who can save the worst sinner. I will come back to this later, but, first, let me share with you some of what I discovered in biblical teaching about corruption.
When it comes to leadership, James Kouzes and Barry Posner have collected data since the 1980s on what people look for in a leader. Four characteristics consistently rank well above the rest: honesty, forward-looking, inspiring, and competence. Honesty ranks number one by a significant margin. As Kouzes and Posner put it, “If people are going to follow someone willingly, whether it be into battle or into the boardroom, they first want to assure themselves that the person is worthy of their trust.” (Credits to Ray Pennings for this.)
I have studied many other sacred texts, but only in the Bible do I find repeated warnings against bribery and corruption. Why is that? Deuteronomy 10:17 gives the answer: “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed” (NLT).
What I discovered in my research is that bribing gods and goddesses has been, throughout history, especially in premodern cultures, the way to get things done. Bribe the spirits, and they will give you what you want. Our concept of the magic genie comes directly from this.
But, the God who made every human being cannot be made somebody’s genie in the bottle. He doesn’t say, “Pay me, and then I will do good things for you!”
Rather, He has a different solution for our problem. Instead of us paying Him, He chose to pay for our corruption at great cost to Him, by dying on behalf of sinful human beings.
The God who cannot be bribed is the very same God who went out of his way to serve humanity, including each of us in this room, by dying for us. Only a God who cannot be bribed would give His life away for someone who wants to bribe Him. By refusing to be bribed, God relinquished the basis upon which today’s leaders build and keep power. “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:45). Unlike the animistic spirits, the Hindu gods, or the police officers in nations around the world, the God of Jesus Christ does not impoverish you in order to serve you. Rather, II Corinthians 8:9 says that “though Jesus was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
But, why did He die? He died for the innate corruption in each of us, the corrupt inner predisposition that gives birth to public corruption when society makes it possible. II Corinthians 5:19-21 reads this way:
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation…For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
Because He died on the Cross, Jesus is not only willing to forgive us of the sin of corruption, but he also reconciles us to those whom we may have taken advantage of. But, not only does He forgive us and reconcile us, He also regenerates us, making us alive in a new way so that righteousness compels us to seek the truth over corrupt wealth. In other words, the Cross is how a person can be made new with new ambitions and goals that include disavowing corruption. Our inner corruption is replaced by spiritual health and wholeness.
It is this God who grants access, who grants favor, who serves us efficiently, who makes our lives work. He does freely what in a corrupt society we must pay for. Having given His life for us, He then creates in His followers the desire to grant access, to serve efficiently, to grant favor, and to cooperate with our neighbors. That’s how we love our neighbors as ourselves.
The inner personal transformation that Jesus offers us as the God of the Universe is the way we control the culture of corruption. A culture shaped by the Cross will not foster corruption because corruption is not consistent with God’s character: “He cannot be bribed!”
The brilliant University of California-Berkeley law professor, the late John Noonan, contrasted bribes and gifts this way:
A bribe expresses self-interest; a gift conveys love. A bribe subordinates the recipient to the donor, a gift identifies the donor with the recipient. A gift brings no shame, a bribe must be in secret. A gift may be disclosed, a bribe must be concealed. The size of a gift is irrelevant; the size of a bribe, decisive. A gift does not oblige; a bribe coerces. A gift belongs to the donee; a bribe belongs to those to whom the bribe is accountable.
God comes not expecting our bribe, but He comes with the gift of His Son. And all that remains is for you to accept that gift. When you do, consciously aware that you don’t deserve it because you are inwardly corrupt, then He will forgive you, reconcile you to Him and others, and make you a new person whose desires are to bless others, rather than to steal from them.