Each morning, as the coffee buzz kicks in, we all ask ourselves what must happen for the day to be a success. There are relationships to keep up, cleaning to do, work to be done, and exercise (if that’s your sort of thing). But as the day unfolds, the boat begins taking in water. The router loses its connectivity (again), the project you meant to finish isn’t, or the kids don’t cooperate with your plans. Before you know it, the day is lost and you find yourself needing to make up lost ground. In some areas, things are worse than before. Mistakes have been made along the way, and your guilt tells you there’s a need to balance the scales.

One day becomes a week becomes nine months (and counting), and the accumulating deficit can feel impossible. What is to be done with such a debt?

In the last season of the BBC show Sherlock the famed detective makes it his mission to expose the crimes of Culverton Smith. This ridiculously rich entrepreneur and philanthropist is also a serial killer. He astonishingly believes that “If life is a balance sheet — and I think it is — why, I believe I’m in credit!”.

Aided by the sheer repulsiveness of Culverton’s demeanor, the viewer is pushed to see him as evil incarnate, but his moral logic is left unanswered. If one balances lives saved against lives taken, Culverton’s self-assessment proves correct. He’s founded innumerable charities and funded hospitals. Despite his penchant for murder, the world is measurably better because of him.

The shadow side of Culverton’s balance sheet morality extends to Sherlock himself. For all his drug abuse and erratic behavior, is Sherlock more trouble than he’s worth? Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, insists he is still valuable. But to his friend, Dr. Watson, Sherlock’s cons far outweigh the pros.

If it’s true that good deeds can outweigh the bad in some cosmic balance sheet, one is left with the discomfort of absolving a philanthropist-serial killer like Culverton. But the more uncomfortable truth is that a balance sheet approach to life is an almost default way of thinking we all share.

Excess and deficit, draining and fulfilling, toxic and healthy: we view life and ourselves on a balance scale of valuation, governed by a desire to simply be enough. A day spent away from the kids calls for “special time” to make up for one’s absence. One might give flowers and candy after last night’s fight. A leader might talk about building relational capital to push through an unpopular decision, trading goodwill for necessity. That toxic friend is more trouble than they’re worth.

Exchanges like these might qualify as wisdom to some, but this balancing act strikes me as misguided. Our assessment of the severity of mistakes is so often short-sighted that whatever peace offerings we conjure are usually inadequate. We tend to judge others more harshly than ourselves. What corresponding price can be placed upon a poor choice of words at precisely the wrong time? How much generosity can offset the pain of forgetting someone’s birthday?

However these questions are answered, people can instinctively tell when they’re being manipulated — and it doesn’t usually go over well. Making up for lost time or (over-)compensating for errors might feel like repentance (motivated by remorse), but they’re ultimately distractions from the real issue. You can’t buy your way into a relationship anymore than you can buy your way into heaven, regardless of whatever currency you use. Good deeds and bad deeds cannot be weighed against each other to produce the happy verdict of “good enough.”

However you slice it, the balance sheet of life leads to insecurity, guilt, and fear, whether or not there’s enough credit in our account to offset the debits. Are you a good enough Christian if you are above average? Is your friend good enough if they mostly tell you the truth? Did you eat enough vegetables to have that ice cream?

After the world has again been saved by Sherlock, it’s still not clear whether Holmes is more trouble than he’s worth. Sure, he solves crimes and imprisons criminals, but Sherlock is a criminal himself, and he’s responsible for the death of John Watson’s wife. How could Watson call this high-functioning sociopath a friend?

In the closing scenes of the episode, Dr. Watson has resolved to help Sherlock with his drug addiction, but he’s still not his friend. That is, until the good doctor absolves the addict of his guilt. Against his own judgment, he does not blame Sherlock for the death of his wife. He erases the balance altogether. This forgiveness does not lessen Watson’s grief. “It is what it is,” he says. But it does gain him his only friend.

This movement from assessment to forgiveness is precisely what makes Christianity so compelling. Jesus did not spend his days tallying up a list of wrongs and rights. He wasn’t dividing his time or efforts between our worthiness and unworthiness. He wasn’t in the business of assessing our worth at all. He tried to tell anyone who would listen that our balance sheets lead to broken friendships and holy wars. He was more interested in loving us than in holding our failures against us, which of course made everyone his family. Intent as he was with getting his hands bloody with our sin, he never once held a balance sheet. Never has, and never will.

To Jesus, we do not accumulate debts; they are paid in full. He does not scowl at our day’s failures or cheer at their triumphs. So far as Jesus is concerned, we begin and end our days just like we always have: unfathomably loved.