Long ago I wrote a story that probably occurs a million times a year–a young man falling in love with a married woman.
Here’s the tl:dr version of that story …
A tall, lean bicycle courier named Morrissey has a crush on a young nurse named Beth Leguisadauskas. He gives her a ride home on his bike. He then helps her to cook dinner. But this is no ordinary dinner.
They are cooking a placenta they stole from the hospital. Placenta is thought to cure depression. Beth’s older brother is chronically depressed and suicidal. He mopes and sleeps all day. Can’t hold a job. He’s staying with Beth and her husband. Beth’s husband wants him out. Beth is desperate.
Beth and Morrissey carried the placenta home from the hospital in a white bucket. After Morrissey removes the placenta from the white bucket and hands it to Beth, he begins to daydream of sleeping with Beth. He stares at her arm, her shoulders, her cheeks. He can’t get enough of her.
Morrissey wishes Beth wasn’t married. He wishes he didn’t have a long-time girlfriend. He wishes that he could drag Beth into the white bucket. He wishes the white bucket would conceal the act.
Morrissey imagines the white bucket as a world where he could do whatever he wanted without fear of getting caught. He wishes the white bucket were that world.
And that is the parable of the white bucket.
What Is the Parable of the White Bucket?
This fictional story is not about the placenta. Nor is it really about the potential betrayal. It’s more about the white bucket.
And what it stands for.
The parable of the white bucket is about a one nightstand. It’s a story to explain our deceptively wicked hearts and how we justify ourselves in our actions–no matter how devious or small.
Let’s cut to the heart of the matter: Would you do something wrong if you knew you could get away with it? Would you have an affair? Steal money? Kill an enemy?
The white bucket is like a parallel universe that allows somebody to do something without getting caught. It’s a universe where–in the case of rape, say–only the rapist and victim exist.
Moreover, the white bucket is an ethical tool to measure the motive of the heart. It asks: what is my potential for getting caught? The answer depends on four things:
Remote: How far away am I from the law? Inside the white bucket, you are far, far away. You’re looking for distance here. Think deployed soldiers or international business trips.
Stranger: Do these people know me? Remote and stranger usually go hand in hand. The farther you get away from your house, the less people know you. When you are surrounded by people you will never see again, you are likely to behave differently. Probably more boldly, deviantly.
Punishment: What will happen if I get caught? Simple enough. If you get caught, what’s the penalty? Severe? Minimal? None at all? Would I damage my reputation? Hurt my family? Go to jail?
Reflection: Do I care if I get caught? Introspective people get hammered by reflection. That’s why so many writers are drunks. The 17th century poet Matthew Prior said, “And as I much reflected, much I mourn’d.” Look at mourned the same way that Jesus spoke about the “mournful” in his Sermon on the Mount–they are grieved over their sin. So, those who squelch reflection don’t see the pain that their actions cause. Thus, they don’t mourn.
Naturally, someone low in conscience doesn’t need to be remote or strange. On the other hand, an introspective person surrounded by strangers in a remote land could feel enormous shame or guilt.
Furthermore, someone who believes deeply in the omnipresence and omniscience of God will never be remote or strange. Someone who doesn’t–in fact, someone who is isolated socially–does not need to be in a remote land to commit a violent act. They may in fact believe they live in a white bucket. In this way, the white bucket is their strange remoteness.
But get this: smaller acts are committed in the privacy of your own home. You neither fear getting caught or getting punished. And what would the punishment be except shame?
The True Root of the Problem
Shame is the root of the problem. Erase shame and people can do their indecent acts. But you can not erase shame. Shame will remain. Unless your conscience is cauterized beyond feeling. Shame is a built-in mechanism to warn us of evil acts.
In a previous post I asked you to follow me into this parable of a sex affair. I then provided these possible solutions:
Sleeping with her would provide certain and immediate pleasure. But it’d be short-lived. Plus, you risk catching a venereal disease. Or getting the woman pregnant. Or getting caught. And if you get caught, your wife gets hurt. The utility calculus might tell you not to have sex with her. But there’s a twist.
Not sleeping with her would provide certain, short term pain–that is, withholding immediate pleasure. But the pain would not last, nor would it haunt you. Yet, there still remains a value judgment: would you get caught?
In the end I said because you are in India and your wife is not, India provides the perfect white bucket scenario: you are a stranger in a remote land where likelihood of punishment is low.
So, the white bucket is a stark reminder of our shameful, wicked hearts. It’s a harsh reminder of our desperate situation and feisty descent into sin if we stop moving.
We Will Live by the Law of Another
That’s why Romans 7 is so powerful. There is a law at work in our flesh. At war with the law of the spirit that gives life.
John Eldridge–author of Wild at Heart–once said that we do not have wickedly deceptive hearts because of the substitution of Christ for our sin and the work of the spirit giving us hearts of flesh for hearts of stone.
Granted this is true, but it doesn’t erase the power of sin in the flesh. That power is still there. And we must be on guard from that power because I think if we all had access to a white bucket, we would indulge our darkest desires–if not for one thing.
I submit to you that out of the four things, reflection is the only element that is our defense against hidden vice. A stranger in a remote land where the likelihood of punishment is zero has only one defense–his conscience.
Reflection recognizes the conscience. Recognizes the freedom we have–especially where lawlessness lives–and determines we will live by the law of another–Christ Jesus–when there is no other law.
The Purpose of Your Conscience
Truth is, a white bucket doesn’t exist. There will never be a perfect scenario where we can do something without anybody knowing. That’s Morrissey’s dilema. He can never truly do anything and not get caught.
Neither can you. There always exist the chance that someone will catch us. Then we have to ask: Do we care if we get caught?
The point is this: your conscience has a purpose. It’s purpose is to protect you from sin, judgment, pain and hell. The debate is over the state of your conscience. Is it pure, alert, sober? Or is it dull, dead and drunk?
The answer to that question will determine not only the state of your soul, but the state of your life. One is dominated by minimal pain and maximal peace. The other is dominated by shallow happiness and deep misery.
You have to decide which life you want.
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