Archive for September, 2013

Don’t be afraid of sin.

What is sin?


Ah yes, that eternal question.  It’s started wars, it’s led to ostracism, and it’s led to countless fights between parents and children. 


In many more conservative traditions, sin is a set of rules.  It is a sin to do X, so you must avoid X.  However, as a liberal evangelical, I take a different view of sin.  Sin is not a list of things to avoid, sin is whatever causes harm.  Everything must be measured against this.  Does having sex before marriage cause harm?  Depends on the situation and the couple.  Does punching someone in the face cause harm?  Yes.  Does punching someone in the face to stop them from attacking someone else cause harm…or does it prevent a greater harm?  Unclear. 


I believe that the approach Jesus took in the gospels supports this interpretation.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins to take a different approach on sin, moving from the rule-driven approach of the Torah, to a more philosophical approach.  Not killing moves to not hurting another person.  Not committing adultery moves to not having unfaithful thoughts. 


Now, admittedly…rules are a lot easier.  It’s a lot easier to avoid things than to not cause harm.  What very few people talk about, but which I believe, is that sin also is about obligations.  It’s not just about what you shouldn’t do…it’s about what you don’t do.  Do you not care about other people or show them love?  Do you not tithe?  Do you not avoid products that you know were made by people who were exploited?  Do you not recycle?  All of these things cause harm…but very few people would likely think of them as sins.


Liberals don’t like the word sin.  It scares us; it seems so judgmental and fire-and-brimstone.  Sinners are murderers, right?  Our world is increasingly trying to turn things into shades of gray.  Things are shades of gray, I don’t deny that, but hurting your friends feelings isn’t something that’s regrettably inevitable, and you’ll try better next time, it’s a sin.  It’s not something to torture yourself about, but it’s something to admit to yourself.  Sin is a beautiful concept.  I don’t find it weighs me down, makes me depressed and guilty, rather, it relieves me from those feelings.  See, the kind of “oh, I shouldn’t really have done that” leaves me in a state of uncomfortableness, some guilt mixed with cognitive dissonance and uncertainty, but a sin…that’s something you can face, and facing it can be a lot more liberating than ignoring it. 


I remember a time when I felt like the decisions I was making were in this constant state of gray.  I did not know what was right.  I felt so bad about myself, but I wasn’t sure that what I was doing was actually wrong.  I had an epiphany one day.  Whether or not it was wrong wasn’t the point, but I was doing something that I wasn’t morally comfortable with, I was causing harm to myself.  As soon as I admitted that, I was able to ask God for forgiveness and then ask it of myself.


Sin is often a road to peace, because it is a means of being accountable to one’s self, to the people around you, to the people you haven’t even met, and to God. See, the beautiful thing about sins is that once asked, forgiveness is always given.


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