I have been thinking about the concept of sin. What is it, exactly? Is it just a list of the things we are supposed to avoid doing or failing to do? It must be more than that, because even Jesus didn’t seem to have this concept in mind.
Following through on that thought, I considered the ways in which what we do, even within a church, might constitute sin if we read the Bible with strict literal interpretation. For example, some churches do not allow women to preach sermons or be senior pastors. Are the churches that do out of alignment with G-d’s will, and therefore in sin? Some churches believe that tongues is a gift still given in modern-day churches. Are the ones who do not encourage the practice of this gift also failing to do as God commands? When doctrine gets out of hand, this is the end result—that we really have no idea what is or isn’t sin anymore.
I wondered if it might mainly boil down to being selfish vs. being selfless. In other words, what G-d wants from us is that we should live always trying to keep the other person in mind. But that has its failings, too. For example, which is more selfless, to attack the person trying to murder your child, or to take the bullet yourself? If sin is a matter of where your heart is, then why do we concern ourselves with the salvation of unselfish atheists? It seems obvious that being a Christian isn’t necessarily the litmus test of one’s moral character.
My worst area of failure is when it comes to my kids. I get so upset and disappointed when they mess up, especially when they seem to believe their behavior was justified. I don’t show them nearly the same level of mercy and grace that G-d shows us. I think that maybe we are looking at it wrong. We see G-d as being more angry about our failures than he is pleased with our successes. G-d is more upset that there are gay people than he is happy that missionaries are providing clean water in Uganda.
The problem is, I don’t think that’s true. We are attributing a human failing to G-d. We are more upset when our kids screw up than we are proud when they do what we expect. We are much quicker to punish bad behavior than to reward good behavior. Heck, this is even true in schools. Kids are sent to the principal for hitting each other, but nor for standing up for a friend or doing well on a test.
There seems to be, as I’ve said before, a tension between personal purity and social ministry. But the more we focus on Jesus’ own words about our conduct (mostly concerned with caring for others), the more likely we are to avoid the pitfalls of internal corruption. Perhaps that is the summary of the difference between actual sin and doctrinal purity.That’s not how G-d sees us. Certainly, He knows we are flawed. But His love for us is far greater than our weaknesses. He isn’t overwhelmingly concerned whether we’ve gotten the finer points of Biblical interpretation down.
Let’s start living like we mean our faith.