Warning: this post contains trace amounts of Jesus and Christianity. If you are someone who feels icky about such things, then you can feel free to move on. Or, you can continue reading because, let's face it, I can still be entertaining and funny when talking about Jesus.
That's right. I'm going to talk about the s-word. But probably not the one you are thinking about. THAT S-word doesn't particularly bother me. As a matter of fact, I probably use it more often than is strictly necessary. No. I need to talk about a different word. A word that I really kind of hate to use. A word that is overused, and, I believe, entirely misunderstood. Sin.
First, let me explain. I am on a journey, of sorts. Things are changing for me and I am feeling out some stuff. A major component of my Journey of Feeling Out is reviewing and establishing some fundamental beliefs about my faith. Over the years, I have grown increasingly uncomfortable talking openly about my beliefs, and even more uncomfortable using "Jesus Speak." You know the type I mean. So I decided to make a list of key words associated with my faith and then rank them according to how uncomfortable they make me.
Why do I always have to make lists? I'm so anal.
So the top of that list was this word. SIN. SIN, SIN, SIN.
There. Now I have said it. Four or five times. And it feels sticky in my mouth. Yuck.
I think that our first impulse when we hear the word sin is to clench our sphincters very, very tight. Because it is an uncomfortable word and, usually, it is followed by a very uncomfortable (and often asinine) message. I don't know about you, but the born and raised Baptist in me immediately hears: For the wages of...DEATH. And then maybe something about being gay or having an abortion...because those are the really BIG sins.
I am working on finding grace in my life...so please don't mind the really vitriolic reaction I still harbor toward the more "evangelical" church. I'm growing.
So...back to what I was saying... I needed to sort out, first and foremost, what (sigh) SIN really is. So I began by writing questions like: Can we really make a list of "sins" that have across the board application? Is sin still sin if we are without intention? If you are not "religious," and don't really recognize this ugly little word, how do you view or understand sin? And lots of other things that aren't very interesting (or are if you are into that sort of thing...) I was tempted to start pulling out books on the subject and seeing what all the other people (most of whom are much, much wiser than I) had to say about this, but then I was gently reminded by Jesus that this was about ME finding out what I believed, and that while I greatly enjoy the reading other people's opinions, some things I just have to find out for myself. So I looked at my Bible. It is just chalk full of interesting verses about sin.
I am going to skip over the more boring parts of this, which included my using a concordance, because a story about a concordance is never interesting. Instead, i am going to hop right into the part where my Dad happened to toss a verse out at me in the car that just changed everything.
Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Now, I have read James before lots of times. I have done a whole study on James. I wrote a very convincing paper a few years ago on the authorship of James. But this verse had just slipped under the everloving radar. I think this is because what it says is 1)incredibly simple and 2)incredibly heavy. It is a message that is not just a "Jesus" message for Christians, but has a wonderfully applicable message for everyone. In itself, it answered most of my questions from above. Very simply put, it says, If you know you aren't right, you are wrong. SIN, then, is sort of hard-wired into us. We know what it is and we know how to NOT do it. We just choose to do it anyway. This is much easier to understand than, say, following the cleansing rituals outlined in Leviticus. But it is uber-hard to actually do. When faced with a choice, make the right one. If you don't...IT IS SIN.
I like writing SIN in big capital letters now because it gives it a jaunty, fun appeal. No. It doesn't. It makes it look like I'm writing a script for one of those Christian Halloween Judgment Houses that try to frighten you into accepting the only zombie that matters, Jesus. But go with me on this...jaunty and fun. Not scary.
The problem with SIN is that instead of bothering to determine what is the right choice for ourselves, we have made a habit in THE CHURCH (jaunty, not scary) of trying to make lists of sins, trying to tell other people what to do and what NOT to do. We now have a climate of legalism, and not a climate of choice. Now I'm a big proponent of Free Will (and all the Calvinists just hit the red X). IF you know what is right, and you don't do it, it is sin. If you aren't right, you are wrong. But, see, I am not in possession of any special Holy Spirit Glasses that actually let me see inside anyone's heart, and thus KNOW that they KNOW what is or is not "right." And frankly I don't want to. I can really go without having the same responsibility as, say, JESUS. And no, I don't think that there is a black and white, easy to read guide for what is and is not SIN. Not even...wait for it...the Bible. God inspired? Sure. Easy answers? Not a chance.
Let me give an example, just for funsies: We have ten pretty standard commandments, and breaking them is SIN. So... "Honor your father and mother" and "Thou shalt not steal" come up. But maybe your Mom is a crackhead. Maybe she tells you to rob a liquor store so she can buy more crack with the money you would steal (oh, crackheads, why you always gotta rob the liquor stores?). Now you are faced with the choice of SINNING either way. Honor your mom, and you steal. Don't steal, and you aren't honoring your mom... See? I think we all know that the right choice here is simply to take yourself to the nearest DFS headquarters and ask for a NEW mom, but I think you get my point.
Now, not being the child of a crackhead, I have never been faced with that particular scenario. But still, not all insight and foresight is given us at once. Sometimes we are probably acting in a way that seems quite sinful to others, but we have yet to feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to see it as such. See it now? James says Whoever KNOWS what is right, and does not do it. There IS intentionality here. And frankly, one doesn't even HAVE to be a Christian to get this. This is just common sense. Ummm, if it is wrong, don't do it. Make good choices. Make the right choice. If you are a Christian, then we have to have faith in the movement of the Holy Spirit to show what is "right." As HUMANS, we need to stop being so concerned with what the Holy Spirit is doing in for anyone else. Remember that one time when Jesus said to pull the LOG out of your own eye? Man...he was funny.
So, that's what I'm going with for right now. Not exactly masterful theology, but just the beginning of my coming to terms with my Jesus-Loving self.
Please, please feel free to toss your two cents out there. I'm formulating and entirely open to the possibility of being totally, and foolishly wrong. Wouldn't be the first time.