I’d like to talk about sin for a minute.
And I’d like to do it in a completely non-judgemental manner.
Now, I know what you may be thinking: minister writes about sin and isn’t judging? Is that even possible? I hope so.
Still, in the church’s defence, we kind of invented it. Not all the sinning – we’ve all had a creative hand in that through the years – but in the concept.
We use the word “sin” in a pretty generic way these days. It tends to mean anything anyone considers wrong, especially morally or ethically wrong. And we usually use it when describing something we have judged to be so.
But that’s not what sin really means. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says that sin is “the purposeful disobedience of a creature to the known will of God.” So sin is a theological concept – it is fundamentally about our relationship with God. Sin distances us from God and the life God intends for us.
That pretty much covers anything, doesn’t it? Yes it does, but here’s where it’s different to a moral or ethical right or wrong: sin is God-centred, not human-centred. Hmm, that sounds funny doesn’t it? “Sin is God-centred.” Let me come back to that in a minute.
The problem, of course, is discerning what is God’s will. The bible is a good place to start, because it gives us two helpful perspectives. First, the word we translate as “sin” in the bible literally means “to miss the mark.” In other words, if our goal is to be close to God, to have a relationship with God, sin is the stuff that knocks us off course or sends us in another direction. Second, the other word we us with sin is “transgression.” That’s when we “cross the line” – violate a law or a commandment. There are many laws in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus (some of them are, um … interesting, too) and there are the Ten Commandments, fundamental guidelines for living. And there is the “Great Commandment” in Christian scripture: to love God with all my heart and soul and my neighbour as myself.
Our interpretation of those laws and commandments changes over time. I know that stoning your neighbour for working on the Sabbath certainly has, for example. (Although, you may feel like you want to if they’re running a chain saw at 6 am when you’re sleeping in.) But that doesn’t mean that the concept of respect for justice and for what is right should change. Nor does the concept that right relationship with God and each other and the world – to “love” as Jesus taught – should be our goal in living. In her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris writes that “I can find all too many ways in which I transgress regularly against the great commandment, to love God with all my heart and soul, and my neighbour as myself. On a daily basis, I fail to keep the balance that this commandment requires of me: that I love and care for myself, but not so well that I become incapable of loving and serving others; and that I remember to praise God as the author of life itself, but not so blindly that I lose sight of the down-to-earth dimensions of my everyday relationships and commitments.” But we always need to continue to try.
Which brings me back to that phrase above that sounded funny, “sin is God-centred.” I think it seems odd to me because sin is the antithesis of a God-centred life, the thing that drives us away from God. So what draws us to God. Salvation? Redemption? Fancy terms, but I think they’re only the process of returning to God after sin. The opposite of sin? I think it’s love, love as God loves us and as Jesus showed us.