Epitaphs take a life and synthesize it into a concise statement. Some are humorous. “I told you I was sick.” Or “She lived with her husband for fifty years and died in the confident hope of a better life.” Some suggest a wasted life. “She loved the phone.” Others are tragic. “One miserable soul; lived alone; died alone.” And a few are outright lies. “As the flowers are all made sweeter by the sunshine and the dew, so this old world is made brighter by the lives of folks like you,” appears on the marker for Bonnie Parker, who died with Clyde Barrow, her gangster partner, in a gun battle. Others are profound. On the footstone of Dr. James Dobson’s father are two simple words: “He prayed.”
The epitaph written by God on the life of Ahab is horrific: He “did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30; my emphasis) Take all the kings and leaders of Israel to that point, and Ahab was worse than every other one. Worse than Saul in his rebellion. Worse than Solomon in his degradation. Worse than the foolish Rehoboam. Worse than Omri, his evil, idol-worshipping father.
How does a man get to the place where he makes a Jezebel his wife? How can a God-follower become a Baal-worshipper? God tells us how.
“And it came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshipped him.” (1 Kings 16:31)
Ahab minimized his sins to the point that it became a trivial thing to engage in the rebellious, idolatrous, disobedient acts of those who had gone before. He probably didn’t set out to live this way. But as C. S. Lewis noted, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” [Screwtape Letters.] For Ahab, sin became a trifle. His conscience? It died. The Spirit? He was quenched. Ahab got to the point where no ungodly act could cause a twinge of doubt or questioning pang. He was rooted in his sinful state. Luther could well have been speaking of Ahab when he said, “The ultimate proof of the sinner is that he does not know his own sin.”
The lesson from Ahab? There is no sin so trivial it cannot or should not be taken before God’s throne for the covering of His grace (Heb. 4:16). There is no deviation from the character of God, no matter how “trivial,” that cannot lead me down the slippery slope of degradation. Yet the news of grace is that there is likewise no confessed sin that cannot be atoned for by the blood of Christ. In a sense, sin is some of the best news there is, because when sin is recognized, there is a way out — confession that will (it’s a promise; 1 Jn. 1:9) yield reconciliation to God.
So a guilty conscience is a gift of God that leads to the grace of forgiveness.