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Have you ever had a song lyric stuck in your head? It could be a tune that you have not heard for years, coming to mind when you least expect it. That happened to me once. It was an old country song of hardship and pain in which the chorus wailed, “I washed my hands in muddy water. I washed my hands but they didn’t come clean. I tried to do like Daddy told me, but I must have washed my hands in a muddy stream.”
This plaintive refrain seems to describe a large segment of our population today, both young and old. So many people seem to have lost their way, distracted and dragged down by destructive habits and murky values, so that they seem unable to tell the difference between right and wrong. Music, entertainment, the workplace, and the political realm are adrift without a clear sense of right and wrong. The courts are full of litigants striving for advantage and seeking large judgments. The jails are overflowing, so that felons are often released early just to make room for newly convicted inmates.
Sadly, leaders at all levels of government are often found to be dishonest, engaging in bribery and other forms of corruption—including marital infidelity, with all the heartache and emotional scarring it can bring. Even major charitable organizations have been tainted by scandal and malfeasance. Churches and church-sponsored organizations have been riddled with horrifying scandals involving the abuse of children.
It seems that many in our modern society have “washed their hands in muddy waters”—for they are certainly unclean.
How have we come to this sorry state of affairs? Why have moral underpinnings crumbled? What has allowed actions and behaviors once acknowledged to be wrong—even sinful—to be accepted or even expected in our fellow human beings? Why have the waters of acceptable human behavior become so muddy?
The Bible contains the answers to these important questions, though most people never go there to find them. The source of these seemingly intractable problems is human nature. The prophet Jeremiah put it in clear perspective when he wrote, under inspiration, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Without clear moral guidelines and teaching, the basest elements of human nature—vanity, jealously, lust, and greed—dominate mankind’s activity.
Why, despite so many churches and religious organizations out there, have so many people lost their way? The prophet Ezekiel wrote about this, and his words apply to us today. “Thus says the Lord God: 'Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them'” (Ezekiel 34:10). He continued, “Is it too little for you to have eaten up the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the residue of your pasture—and to have drunk of the clear waters, that you must foul the residue with your feet? And as for My flock, they eat what you have trampled with your feet, and they drink what you have fouled with your feet” (vv. 18–19).
Certainly, many churches large and small have not been faithful in teaching biblical doctrine accurately. In fact, they have muddied the water and fouled the clear teachings of the Bible, teaching instead the traditions of men. Jesus scolded the religious leaders of His day when He said,“Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:7–9).
Jesus Christ taught that His Father's way is not a heavy burden (Matthew 11:30). It has the power to change your life, and even wash you clean of your sins—forever!
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