The Outlaw Bess–1 John 3:4

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.–1 John 3:4

Bess sits in the back of my fiction class, directly under the clock. I notice that she sits under the clock because of her annoying habit of twisting her neck around, turtle-like, to see how many more minutes of my dull-as-dirt tutelage she must endure before she heads off to her next dull-as-dirt class. Perhaps what’s most annoying about Bess is that she’s currently making an A in the course.

No, what’s really most annoying is the way she wants to quibble over ever point. When she misses a class and a quiz, she ignores the clear notice from the syllabus that make-up quizzes will not be given and insists that she should get to take the quiz, because, after all, she wasn’t there on Monday. That seems about as logical as me attempting to get out of a speeding ticket by telling the officer I couldn’t slow down since I was driving too fast at the time.

Today, Bess fussed about not being able to earn extra points on her quiz. I gave the class some fourteen possible points, hoping that most of them would get ten, a perfect score. Bess got ten, but wanted more, because, after all, she wanted them. Grading her papers is an exercise in self-abuse. Everything that I mark, I know, will be questioned. “It’s not so much that I misspelled that word but just that I used the wrong letters to put it on the page.” Okay, she never said that, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Bess, it seems to me, has no problem with self image. If she has a problem it is with being able to recognize any flaws in what she does. Her wrong answers aren’t wrong; they’re responses to the better question that I didn’t ask. Her grammar mistakes aren’t mistakes; they reflect an alternative method for conveying meaning. In short, Bess simply cannot see anything that she does as wrong–most annoying.

But then how far is that from how the rest of us live our lives. Did I really deserve that speeding ticket? Wasn’t I justified in withholding my tithe? That movie wasn’t really that obscene, was it?

Despite the protestations of moral relativists and individuals like you and me, there are laws in this universe, laws imposed by God. We’re typically quite good at recognizing the laws we do not struggle to obey, but what of the others? Are we all equal outlaws with Bess?