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My Sin Problem

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2013 at 7:08 pm

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I hate the word “sin.”

I’ve had this problem for a while.  It is not because I am a theological pansy which hardliners like Mark Driscoll might think.

I have no problem with the concept.  It’s the misuse of the word that I find unpalatable.

First, I want to unpack the Biblical meaning of the word.  There are at least three words that I know of in Hebrew that convey the term we often deem “sin.”

  1. chata’ah – The word most commonly translated as “sin,” literally means something like “missing the mark.”  My understanding is that it most commonly used in archery to express the idea that the shot missed the target.
  2. pesha – This word carries with it a certain high hand-ness. The word that gets translated is usually “transgression” which for modern Western readers is a fairly vague concept.  The idea is that the offender willfully carries out an action that flies in the face of what God has intended for humanity.
  3. avon – Normally, this word is translated as “iniquity.”  It is connected with the idea of a perversion or twisting of God’s intention.  It takes something good and healthy and warps it for selfish ends.

While Bible translators do well to make distinction among these words, the Church en masse generally does not.  The word “sin” is thrown around without much thought or care for actual meaning.  When we say “sin” we generally mean moral failure of some kind.

“So-and-so sinned because they messed up morally.”

“What’s-his-face is living in sin because he ______.”

“She’s a sinner because she doesn’t know God.”

We talk about “sin” as if it is all pesha.  All high-handed, arrogant rebellion against God.  I just cannot be so sure of that.

If we look at sin biblically speaking, we have to acknowledge that we are all in the same boat.  We are human, and to say we are as such is to admit that we “fall short” of wholeness in relationships, interactions, justice and ethics.  We are flawed.  We are inept.  We are broken somehow.  Maybe we didn’t do it to ourselves.  Maybe we were abused.  Maybe we were ignored.  Maybe we just came out of the womb differently (see John Steinbeck).  But we are most certainly “not right.”

Oh, we have our moments.  They are the moments when people rush in to bomb blasts to save wounded people; the moments when communities rally around families struggling with finances and sickness; the moments when a brave few stand in the face of danger and harm to declare injustice concerning races, genders and religions.  These are the moments when we rise above our often twisted self-interest.

But the moments when we betray, hate and persecute our fellow man also show us that something is fundamentally wrong with us.  No generation or empire has ever been able to stamp this out of us.  The purpose of virtually every religion is to deal mostly with the darkness that lives in us.  I do not believe that you could convince me that humans exist without flaw.

So why do Christians often make it seem as though “sinner” is a word reserved for those outside Christianity?  We talk about those “living in sin.”  According to definition, aren’t we all?  Has there ever been a community of Christians that did not “miss the mark” of what they were called to do?

I guess I just want to plea with Christians to stop using the word “sin” or “sinner” as if it is some unique condition.*

We are, all of us, flawed in our own ways.  Let’s quit pretending God thinks some people “miss the mark” worse than others.  Why do we call some people out on certain kinds of “flawed-ness” but we refuse to address issues like arrogance, misuse of wealth and disregard for those in need?

In my opinion, “sin” is a bankrupt word.  It is bankrupt because it has come to mean certain types of immoral behavior and does not include the vast spectrum of brokenness we all encounter.  People want to talk about “sin” but they don’t want to do anything to help people in their brokenness.  Hmmm.  Seems like Jesus had some hard things to say about people like that.

So let’s quit kidding ourselves.  We are all flawed.  We all miss the mark of God’s intent for our lives because no one lives the ideal, perfect life.  Christians can sometime be the meanest, soulless people on the planet.  Atheists can sometimes be closer to the Kingdom of God in the way they care for the planet and others.  But in reality, we are all somewhere in between total depravity and righteousness.  Let’s stop berating people for being HUMAN.

Before you jump to a conclusion, let me say this.  Just because we are human and disjointed is not a free pass to do wrong.  We should all be aspiring for shalom – the way it was intended to be.  Shalom is that everyone is equal.  Shalom is that no one goes without.  Shalom is that everyone knows love.  Shalom is that no one gets treated like an object.  Shalom is man, beast and earth living in harmony.  And when people blatantly go against shalom, we should correct them.  We should announce, demonstrate and teach what it looks like when shalom is lived out.  But we do not say it in a vacuum.  We say it in relationship.  We demonstrate it by entering into the injustice that we find.  We say it from no moral high ground because we have none.

When governments warp God’s intent for them to serve the people, we peaceably protest.  When people treat others as objects of manipulation, we stand up for the abused.  When people or institutions mismanage the wealth we have been given, we point out the discrepancy.

So I want to stop using the word “sin” as a carte blanche term.

Let’s just call things what they are.

When someone blatantly abuses or wounds others, we say, “They intentionally busted up the way it was supposed to be for humanity.”  When someone warps good things for bad purposes we say, “They totally manipulated the way it was intended to be.”  And when someone drops the ball, forgets their calling or reverts to old habits and are remorseful, confused or just ignorant, let’s just say, “Wow.  They’re human.”

I once heard Alan Hirsch say,

“Let the critique of old be the fruit of the new, and be careful with your words.”

If you have a problem with humanity’s “sinfulness” then you should either practice the better way of living and let the results speak for themselves, or consider being a different kind of creature.

 

*This post does not deal with any kind of “atonement theory” or theological doctrine of righteousness.  The aim of this post is to question how we label people based on our own preconceived notions of sinfulness and fail to look at a holistic view of sin.

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