I recently got into a long Facebook conversation that basically revolved around the nature of sin and our response to it. I’ve written about this a few times before (do a search), but perhaps it’s worth sharing some of my recent thoughts on the matter.
Essentially, the conversation to which I refer centred around the idea of sin as anything that falls outside “God’s divine order”. I suppose this goes right back to the Ten Commandments: define sin as a list of proscribed behaviours, attach God’s sanction to said list, and you can then safely judge those who engage in such behaviour.
The problem with such a view, it seems to me, is that we all think we know what constitutes acceptable versus unacceptable behaviour… But who is right?
You might say that the Ten Commandments represent a definitive and immutable definition of unacceptable behaviour. But if that’s the case, how come most Christians today are quite happy to turn a blind eye to adultery, which is specifically outlawed by the Decalogue, while denouncing, say, same-sex relationships, which don’t get a mention?
It seems to me that whenever we are drawn into defining sin as a list of rights and wrongs, we are simply continuing to try to live off what Genesis 3 calls the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We take upon ourselves the authority to name good and evil, and we boost our own self-identity and security by identifying those on the evil side of the line and congratulating ourselves for being on the good side.
For me, the most fundamental problem with this approach is that we all have areas of “sin” in our lives (accepting that using such a term without having properly defined it is less than ideal, hence the quote marks) to which we are blind, and this automatically disqualifies us from determining other people’s sinfulness.
I have not performed a systematic study of how many times Jesus mentions sin in the gospels. However, off the top of my head, I have a feeling that when he did mention it in relation to a specific individual, it was usually in the form of an instruction along the lines of “Go and sin no more”. In other words, he did not go about pointing out specific sins people had committed and commanding them to “Stop doing that thing!” (which is what we Christians tend to be known for doing). Rather, Jesus proclaimed forgiveness for people’s sin (whether for a specific sin or a blanket covering of all sins is not often clear) and admonished them to henceforth pursue freedom from sin.
However, I do seem to remember Jesus clearly saying something along the lines of “Do not judge others, lest you yourselves be judged”. And if “Do not judge others” doesn’t mean “Do not call out and condemn sin in others”… well then, I’d like to know what on earth it does mean, if not that.
It seems to me that as a species, we find it almost impossible not to see the world in terms of right and wrong, good and evil. And we might well seek justification for such a worldview by tracing its roots back to the Ten Commandments. Yet it is striking to me that Jesus simply did not not teach or embody such a worldview. Indeed, he seemed to have little time for those, like the Pharisees, who invested much time and effort in defining sin in terms of purity codes. (And whenever we insist that someone is “in sin” and needs to repent in order to be restored to fellowship with others and/or with God, aren’t we simply resurrecting and perpetuating exactly the kinds of purity codes Jesus had no truck with?)
What if, instead, we saw the world and our interactions with it in terms not of good and evil but of love and unlove? What if we looked at our lives in terms of what encourages, blesses, produces growth, and frees others from condemnation? Would that not bring us closer to the kind of worldview Jesus seemed to espouse?
What if we worried less about behaviours that we find personally offensive (which, in any case, are wildly variable from person to person) and focused more effort on simply loving and affirming others without boundaries or limitations? What if we left the definition and identification of “sin” to God, since he is the only one not tainted by sin and thus in a position to properly address it?
I realise that this seems dangerously radical. Honestly, I find it much easier to theorise about in a blog post than to put into practice in my day-to-day life. But ask yourself, how far has all our obsessing over sin got us, as a church and as a society? Is it not time to finally and permanently vacate the judgement seat and leave it to God? Or do we not really have enough faith in God to leave that kind of judgement in his hands?
[ Image: april ]