According to TMZ (hey, it’s a low-information age) actress Reese Witherspoon and her husband was recently arrested for a DUI. As part of her apology for threatening the arresting officer she wrote, “The words I used that night definitely do not reflect who I am.” On March 23, 2013 a Lincoln, Neb bus driver lost his mind and assaulted a passenger with brutality not often seen outside of an MMA match. In mitigation, his union rep “told 1011 News she has seen the video and that, ‘It does not accurately reflect who this man (Fischer) is.’”
It’s the “I’m Not That Guy” defense and that is code for, “I was not at my best” or “I wish I hadn’t done that” or “I don’t intend to act that way.” That this defense seems to be finding traction, as they say, says something about our culture. It says that it matters less what you do than how you see yourself (self-image) or how you want others to see you or what you intended to do.
Perp: “Yes, officer, I know I murdered those two people, but that’s not who I am.”
Cop: “Really? Who are you”
Perp: “I donate money to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, I recycle, I drive a hybrid. I’m basically a good guy who made a bad decision in a split second.”
Cop: “So, are you saying that you didn’t actually murder those two people over there?”
Perp: “Well, yes, I did murder them but I really regret it now and because, on balance, the good I’ve done outweighs the bad, I don’t think that my whole life should be ruined because of one bad choice ”
Cop: “Do you have a way to restore life to the two people whom you murdered?”
Perp “No. ”
Cop: “If you chose to step in front of a moving train, would there be consequences?”
Perp: “ Yes. ”
Cop: “If you jumped off of a building would there be consequences?”
Cop: “Then why shouldn’t there be consequences for your actions in this case?”
Perp: “Because I will it to be so.”
Cop: “Come along peaceably now. We’re going to central booking.”
It’s not riveting dialogue but you get the point. We like to think that reality is endlessly plastic but it isn’t. There are limits. Choices are consequences. There are laws at work that no creature can revoke. The “I’m not that guy” defense seeks to evade the consequences but it doesn’t work.
David found out that he was that guy. The prophet Nathan prosecuted him for his sin with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband. “You are the man!” (2Sam 12:7). There were consequences:
Thus says Yahweh, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’ (vv. 11–12)
The account goes on to say that Yahweh afflicted “the child Uriah’s wife bore….” Not “Bathsheba” but Uriah’s wife—nice little dagger that one. Yahweh took that child from David and Bathsheba. David was that man.
The bus driver is that man. Reese Witherspoon is that woman because Adam was the first man and we are all in “the first Adam.” (Rom 5:12–21). We were there, in him. We sinned in him and we continue to sin in him. According to Romans 7, as read by the confessions and most the Reformed interpreters, we remain “that man” until we die.
The proper response to sin and shame is not to deny it but to own it. There are three things necessary to know that in this life we may live and die blessedly: First the greatness of our sin and misery, second, how we are redeemed from all our sins and misery, third, how we ought to be thankful for such redemption (HC Q/A 2, paraphrased). Christ became “that man” for us. We can confess that we really are “that guy” because Christ, who knew no sin, was made to be sin, that we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21). Our sin and our sins have been imputed to him and his righteousness to us. The righteous shall live by faith (Rom 1:17). We live by faith, not by sight. We are not what we shall be, but what we are now is “that guy” who, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, has been redeemed from the eternal consequences of his actions.
The only way to own our actions and their consequences is by grace. When we deny them, when we pretend not to be “that guy” we’re pretending to present ourselves to God on the basis of our own, “perfect and personal obedience” (WCF 7.2). Jesus already did that as the substitute for all those who trust him.