“I don’t drink and I don’t chew, and I don’t go out with girls that do.” A ditty that my father repeated jokingly, it presents sin as bad things an individual does and implies there is a catalogue of such sins. Furthermore, if you do them you are bad, and if you don’t do them, you are good. Such a view quickly escalates into the assumption that certain people are bad, especially certain kinds of people. And it sets the stage for debilitating shame and guilt, or unjust self-righteousness.
The true meaning of sin is missing the mark, being turned away from God’s ways rather than cooperating with God’s order and justice—a stance of a community or corporate body as much as of an individual. To sin is not to be a bad person; to sin is not about being unlovable or unloved by God. To sin is to be out of the flow of what is life-giving. Sin is a force within us and beyond us. Turning to God in repentance and surrender saps its power.
I heard an auto mechanic talk about the expense of medical insurance for his family under the Affordable Care Act. He said he had to have the insurance because of his wife’s many health issues. In order to solve his problem, he joked, “I could divorce her.” Then he added more seriously, “but that wouldn’t be a God-thing.” I wonder if the notion of sin is more of a deterrent to hurtful choices than thinking of some behavior as simply wrong or bad.
What if we regarded sin not as a code of wrong behaviors but as those ways that create in us a lack of compassion, that let us take care of me to the neglect and harm of others; those ways that put us individually and collectively out of the Garden of Eden, that push away the kingdom of God where there is peace and wellbeing for all? Might using the word sin to name such ways make an even more powerful statement of the damage they do and encourage us to repent?
What have you been taught about sin, and how has that been helpful or hurtful? If hurtful, is there a way that word could be reclaimed and serve a positive function?
How does sin operate to divide us and to diminish our compassion?
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” Pray the Lord’s Prayer; perhaps you will want to put it in your own words.
For further reflection:
“I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate . . .” (See Romans 7: 14-25a).
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)