I’ve been thinking a lot about sin lately. Neither a big fan of the word (who is?), nor of most explanations of it, to be honest. One of the very best things about teaching is that it requires you (me) to do some deep learning. In the process of trying to understand how to describe sin, I realized that we so often refer to sin as a singular act (or series of acts) that one commits. As in, I wasn’t sinning before I did this, but I was once I did it. I guess this is a true statement, but I was challenged to a deeper meaning of the word when one of the girls in my small group asked a question the other day. She was wondering if she commits a sin but then dies before asking for forgiveness, would she still go to Heaven? Granted, any question like this is going to be answered a bit different based on your own personal theological bent, but it got me thinking about how our understanding of the Gospel can only go as far as our understanding of sin. If we only understand sin as “I lied to my mom” or “I stole a candy bar” then the Gospel, understood as “Jesus died on the cross for your sins”, becomes really watered down. If all I do wrong are these little things, then I’m pretty okay, right? Why would someone have to die for that?
Another problem with a limited view of sin is that God becomes some sort of cosmic police officer tallying up our crimes. We view Christianity as a purely moral endeavor, a guilt-inducing radar gun. Our main goal is to try and do more right than wrong, which isn’t a bad thing (obviously), but more often than not we try and do it on our own strength, thinking we are capable of fixing ourselves. I read a quote earlier today that I think speaks to the futility of this, “[Personal] History is pattern recognition.” We find ourselves battling the same things in the same way, over and over again, expecting different results (which, by the way, is one definition of insanity).
In my pursuit of a deeper understanding, I’m learning that sin is more than just a series of one-time events, even if they are repeated offenses. It’s a state of being, a state of being that is separate from God. It’s the state of being that lives for the glory and edification of self, rather than the glory and edification of God. In Hebrew, the word for sin means “guilt” as well as “to trespass” (transgress). Trespass means to infringe upon the rights of another, and transgress means to pass or go beyond. As created beings, we infringe upon the rights of God by singing glory to ourselves instead of Him, we go beyond our created bounds, and thus enter into a state of being filled with tension, suffering, and confusion. In Eden, the temptation was not so much the fruit as it was the desire to be on the same plane with God – knowing what He knows, being what He is. Genesis 3:5 says, ” ‘You will not surely die,’ the serpent said to the woman, ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ ” The real result? “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God...the way of peace they do not know…There is no fear of God before their eyes” Romans 3:11, 17, 18 (taken from the Psalms).
In Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller talks about how he came to the understanding that sin exists and that ultimately we each need to stand up and say, “I am the problem.” Sitting in an English class learning about what makes a story good, what makes a story relatable (setting, conflict, climax, resolution), he realized how central conflict is to human experience. “We understand conflict because we experience conflict, right? But where does conflict come from? Why do we experience conflict in our lives? This helped me a great deal in accepting the idea of original sin and the birth of conflict. The rebellion against God explained why humans experience conflict in their lives, and nobody knows of any explanation other than this.” Not only does the Christian story explain conflict, but it also deals with climax – a point of decision to trust redemption in Christ, and it finds its resolution in the depths of grace. “It felt more than true, it felt meaningful. I was starting to believe I was a character in a greater story, which is why the elements of story made sense in the first place.”
All of this to say, I know that there is something deeply flawed in me that makes it so much easier to choose to be selfish rather than to do something for someone else. Redemption is the only thing in this world that really, truly makes sense to me. I need a resolution, and I need that resolution to come from outside of me. It’s sad to me that Christianity so often gets boiled down to a formula, to judgment and soapboxes and arrogance. In its truest form, it is the opposite of all of these things, it is the understanding that sin, separation from God makes me the problem, and that in order to be a part of the resolution, I get to accept the beauty that God makes out of the ashes I create time and time again.
My new favorite song is called “Beautiful Things” by Gungor, and the best thing about it is the way in which it describes grace. “You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of dust. You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us.”