What is sin?
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Usually I try to use ordinary words to explain common religious terms that are familiar, even cliches, but not necessarily thoroughly understood. However, at this time I intend to take a close look at the whole meaning and importance of a very significant little word that our culture today, including the liberal church, would like to ignore. That mighty little word is "sin."
I suspect that most of us, when we hear the word "sin" think first of particular behaviours which have been dubbed "sinful" by some, and then immediately think of our current culture's rationalizations for accepting those same behaviours. That which is considered "sin" varies considerably from one Christian subculture to another, which tends to obscure the fact that some behaviours, such as incest or selfishness, are considered wrong in virtually all cultures through all time. However, such behaviours are more truly the symptoms of "sin" rather than the root condition of "sin."
During the first few centuries of its existence, the church came to recognize "seven deadly sins": Pride, Envy, Anger, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony, and Lust. Philip Yancey, in his book "Rumors of Another World" satirically shows how the current North American culture has so twisted its value system that these seven deadly sins are promoted and/or experienced as the "seven seductive virtues." At the same time, these heart attitudes continue to be key agents disturbing our lives, sidetracking relationships, causing friction between various interest groups et cetera. The heart attitudes identified as these "seven deadly sins" are indeed sinful, and the result of sin, but are not the root condition of "sin."
In order to fully appreciate the devastating reality of "sin," we must have an accurate understanding of God who is good, perfect, holy, just, and loving. God is all knowing, all powerful, present everywhere, great and wonderful beyond our comprehension. He created everything that exists, including creating humans to be His friends and companions. Having made us, He knows us better than we know ourselves, He knows what is best for us, and loving us also wants what is best for us. He made us in His own image which includes giving us free will. Loving us, He wants us to freely return love to Him. Knowing that our lives are the best possible when we live according to His will for us, He cannot and will not tolerate our defiant rebellion against His will. Our free will choice to disobey God, our rebellion against His will for us, is the essence of "sin." At its most profound level, and at its simplest, "sin" is doing our will instead of God's will. It is the ridiculous arrogance of a limited created being thinking that it knows better than its omniscient Creator God. It is being "god" of one's own life (and making the inevitable mess of it.) "Sin" is both failing to do that which it is God's will that an individual do, and doing that which God does not want an individual to do.
Obviously, if you or I are to do God's will, we must have some way of knowing what His will for us is. There are two aspects to knowing His will, the general and the specific. Through reading, studying, meditating upon His written Word, the Bible, we can learn His general will, and we can grow in knowledge of Him and loving relationship with Him. As we seek to know Him for Himself rather than for what He can do for us, and are willing to obey the general directives of His Word, we grow in a living relationship with Him which includes receiving personal directives of His will for us. We learn to hear His still small voice, or inner impulse, and the more willing we are to obey, the more we trust Him, the more we love Him, the more He will communicate with us to give us a sense of His vast love for us and direction for our lives. In this relationship with God there is great joy and delight.
"Sin" separates us from God for as long as we insist upon doing our own will, even for eternity. Choosing to seek God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and to align our will with His will brings joyful, loving relationship here and through eternity. It also gives us the best quality of life here and now. Isn't the best choice obvious?