Lately I have found myself contemplating why, in movies and TV shows, the characters usually do the right thing. I mean, they may not, and often do make wrong choices, but usually the moral of the story is a good one. The husband is wrong to choose his career over his family, the woman is wrong in lying to and cheating on her husband (unless it is for true love, of course). While rarely in real life do we apply the same standard to ourselves. The man who is involved in an adulterous affair while his wife is at home caring for their 4 kids usually justifies his sins. The mother who constantly screams at her children feels she must to get them to behave.
Which leads me to another contemplation I have had: why does the news media constantly call for those they cover to be above reproach? Two recent stories come to mind: a presidential candidate is publicly reprimanded for not reprimanding a supporter for using a not-so-nice word to describe an opponent; and when an over-the-road truck driver fails to realize that his blown tire has killed a man in an oncoming vehicle and continues to his next destination without stopping, he is branded as an unsafe driver. Two instances when I could clearly see the other side of the issue, but the media portrayed the stories as having one right way to handle each situation, and the ones involved in the story did not measure up to their ideal.
The answer isn't complex, but I found this paragraph in the first chapter of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity to be the most concise way to explain it:
I am . . . trying to call attention to a fact; the fact that this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people. There may be all sorts of excuses for us. That time you were so unfair to the children was when you were very tired. That slightly shady business about the money - the one you have almost forgotten - came when you were very hard-up. And what you promised to do for old So-and-so and have never done - well, you never would have promised if you had known how frightfully busy you were going to be. And as for your behaviour to your wife (or husband) or sister (or brother) if I knew how irritating they could be, I would not wonder at it - and who the dickens am I, anyway? I am just the same. That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm. The question at the moment is not whether they are good excuses. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much - we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so - that we cannot bear to face that fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility. For you notice that it is only for our bad behaviour that we find all these explanations. It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves. (emphasis mine)
I guess Romans 1 is more concise (and inspired) but I appreciated Lewis' take on it. The fact of the matter is, without the gospel in one's life, no amount of "Rule of Law" or "Law of Nature" is enough to cause us to consistently do what is right. And only the cross gives us the ability to rightly perceive our sin and to not only make the right decisions, but to desire to make those decisions for the Glory of God. Another reason to rejoice and weep over the amazing grace we have received.