This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

When I was just twenty years old I worked in France for six months. This allowed me to become the only bishop I know who’s been arrested for busking on the Paris Metro. I don’t think it was the singing or guitar playing that was bad; it was just that I didn’t know you had to have a licence. To cut a long story short, I talked my way out of it … and even got to keep the money.

At the point the police stopped me I was doing a John Lennon song from the  ‘Imagine’ album. When my father heard this he responded not to my predicament, but merely observed of John Lennon that you can’t get good fruit from a bad tree. I even took him seriously at the time.

But, of course, this is nonsense. Yesterday I listened to Mozart – evidently a bit of a moral nightmare, but who wrote some of the most sublimely Christian music. Nick Cave, in his marvellous book, Faith, Hope and Carnage, written with Sean O’Hagan, emerges from the shattering death of his young son to wrestle hauntingly with mortality, God and meaning.

What holds these two musicians together is the recognition that human beings are complicated, that mortality is fundamental, and that everyone is messy.

Which comes as a relief for many of us. One of the things Jesus does in the gospels is gently explode assumptions of self-sufficency, self-righteousness and self-purity – especially sacrificing other people on the altar of my cleanliness. It is the unlikely people – who know their own weaknesses and failure and don’t need to have their wounds salted – who find liberation and new life, not those who want to hold other people to standards they can’t keep themselves.

It seems to me that it is experience of the rough side of life that strips us of illusions, but also relieves us of the need to pretend to be right all the time. And I worry about the people who get put on pedestals – sometimes involuntarily – but whose feet of clay will one day be revealed … leaving them rubbished and others disappointed.

There is a massive danger in creating or sustaining a culture in which we set certain people up as heroes, only to wait for the time we can knock them down as failures. This might make me feel better – or morally superior even – but humility is surely the key to compassion: the recognition that, in biblical language, “we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”.

Yet, rather than piling on some neurosis, and like confronting mortality, this can actually be the beginning of freedom.