Between the efforts of Johnny Depp, Gene Wilder, and Roald Dahl most of us know that five children entered Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory one cold British morning and experienced a trial like no other. Before the day’s end four of the children were weighed, measured, and found wanting--their shortcomings revealed to all. The fifth child, Charlie Bucket, was proven kind and virtuous, and received a reward beyond all reason.
The four rejected children were spoiled, each in their own way. They had “gone bad” the way a peach spoils when left on the kitchen counter too long.
In the language of the scripture, these children were sinners.
Wait--did you recoil when you encountered the word sinner? “Oh no!” you protest, “The children had gone bad because their parents had failed them.”
- Augustus Gloop had been over-fed by a doting mother until he could not control his appetite;
- Violet Beauregard had been indulged by parents living vicariously through their child;
- Veruca Salt was a brat because her father had never told her “no;”
- Mike Teavee was an odious, unruly boy because his parents had surrendered him to the electronic babysitter.
No reader (or viewer) could fault Mr. Wonka for separating the children from the factory: he did not give them the chocolate factory because it would have destroyed the children completely and the children would have damaged the factory--along with those who lived and worked there.
These children were, in the very words of Roald Dahl, “spoiled.” They were not rejected because they broke the house rules, they were sent away because their child-like nature had been corrupted into monstrous distortions of their true potential, their true calling. Willy Wonka did not follow the children about the factory, rule-book in hand, eager to cite them for any violation. He did not enforce regulations or demand perfection. He simply wanted to give away his creation to those capable of stewarding the factory by the virtue of their heart, a heart in tune with the maker.
The word spoiled is useful image for understanding sin. The harm of sin is not lawbreaking, but that it mars the image of God in us. Sin spoils us for our true purpose. Sin is not a failure of effort or will, it is a failure of our true nature. Sin is bad because it is bad for us, and it makes us bad for those around us. We have, quite literally “gone bad,” no longer fit for our highest and best calling. To step into paradise as spoiled brats would ruin us further and perhaps ruin the factory as well.
When we are spoiled (whether by our parents or our own choices) we lose the ability to see God’s creation and purpose for what it really is: an invitation to come and live with him forever. We are created to live in harmony with our Maker, but how can we do so if we think him a tyrant, and ogre, or a nit-picking perfectionist? We were created to live in a garden tailored precisely to our needs, but how can we do so if we think our greatest need is to satisfy ourselves at the expense of the garden or our neighbors? He is too good a Father to leave us uncorrected: he wants to make us fit for home again.
When followers of Jesus persist in seeing sin as a violation of the rules they miss the offer of abundant life. The Father is not fastidious record-keeper, charting our performance moment by moment. He is, however, a wise caretaker, both of our souls and his world. He longs to free us from sin because it will also release us into a freedom unbefore imagined. He calls us to the perfection of completion that we might drink deeply of the river of life.
James, the brother of Jesus, assures us that “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” It is the wisdom of obedience: not score-keeping obedience, but obedience that leads to purity and peace.
There is no shortage of golden tickets to admit us to the factory. Our greatest need is to enter unspoiled or renewed, so we can live there forever.