Christians talk about sin a lot. Google or tag surf the word “Sin”. Lots to read.
That’s a frequent criticism of the church. “What’s with the sin! You talk about sin all the time!”
We do, and we always have. The Philokalia, a collection of spiritual readings intended for Orthodox monks, has pages of lists of sins. I was raised in a Calvinist Baptist Church where the constant theme was “Avoid sinning.” And we were told how to avoid sinning, mostly by staying away from the opposite sex. My logical little mind soon realized that staying away from the opposite sex did nothing to check gossip, lying, and envy among teenaged girls. Also, staying away completely from the opposite sex meant that the reason we stayed “pure’ – marriage – wasn’t going to happen. I knew a number of elderly spinsters in that Baptist Church.
Sexual immorality, of course, is the Big Sin for most evangelicals and fundamentalists. They see it (in a theological sense) as misplaced love, love that is owed to God and expressed in the basic relationship of a man and a woman loving each other and loving God together. Sex then becomes a mystery of the divine order rather than a physical human need. At that theological level, to misuse sex is the same as dishonouring a sacrament. (Please note that what I mean here by “sacrament” is theologically technical – not the sacraments of the church, but an action and a physicality that are sacred.)
The modern problem with emphasizing sexuality is that it becomes the focus of the definition of sin. It is so interesting! Prurience itself is a sin, when to hear about sex while being shocked by it becomes stimulating. Of course, sin is much more than sexual immorality.
Sin is anything that separates us from our love for God. Sin is always an idolatry of the self. We are more interested in pleasing ourselves than in pleasing God.
And isn’t it easy to excuse it, even as Christians? “It’s not vanity, I’m just trying to look nice for my husband.” “It’s not greed, I just think it’s okay for Christians to have nice things.” “It’s not envy, it’s just that she really doesn’t deserve that.” “It’s not pride, I just think I did a good job and should have some recognition.”
So the Church has talked about sin a lot, in order to alert us to its dangers. If I don’t tell you about the jagged rocks under the water ahead, your boat will probably hit them. Forewarned, you can steer around, or turn back if you must.
We can’t avoid sin in this world. It is a fallen world. Christ waits to restore it in the last days, with the saints in heaven asking, “How long, O Lord? How long?” We wait, but we wait amongst our own fallenness and the accumulated sin. We see it everyday – in broken lives, in hurt people, in hearts that may never mend from the injury done them in the name of human love. We see a polluted and damaged creation. Like cleaning up the tar balls on beaches after this latest oil spill, we can only mop up on the surface. The real damage goes much deeper. The real damage of an environmental disaster goes beyond ruined beaches, dead wildlife, and a crippled ecology. It goes down into our hearts, where luxury, greed, and desire pollute and corrupt us.
Our world is based on lies, the child of the father of lies. We are told daily that we need to look and act young, that we should be spending money on things and experiences, that the past is a dead and ugly thing. All of this leads to sins of the heart.
Why do we want to be young as we grow older? Is not grey hair the wisdom and glory of age? We must have been brainwashed, to think that being young is a good thing. Although I remember the carefree days, I also remember the overweening self-esteem that led me into some bad situations. I got in well over my head at times. I’m glad that’s all past.
Vanity is encouraged by those who want us to buy their products. Fifty-plus-year-old women don’t have lustrous dark hair, at least not many of them. Telling us that we need to look young (to get partners) is just a way to sell us a poisonous product to turn our hair a different colour. Make-up is the same thing, as well as face creams, foundation garments and figure-enhancing clothes. If you look like the middle-aged grandmother that you are, who is going to want to be your partner? Look, I figure that while I am married in middle-age, my husband is also middle-aged, and I dont’ need to look elsewhere or win anyone else’s admiration. If I wasn’t married, I don’t think I would look for a new partner. If God sent someone my way, he’d better be interested in a grey-haired, Plain-dressed grandmother or keep on moving.
Vanity is a waste of money and time. Get used to yourself. Start young, and avoid the silly products, the waste of money and all the anxiety around dressing and looking like an advertisement.
Greed is subtle. We measure success in this world by money and possessions – the most fleeting of things. Beyond meeting our basic needs, why are we concerned about having ornaments and luxuries? So we can impress others? Be more concerned with the state of your heart before the Lord than with the state of your goods before the world! Keep possessions to a minimum, be easy to move if the Lord calls you elsewhere. You are only a pilgrim here.
We are brought up to be competitive, on the theory that good-natured competition encourages excellence. But it more likely encourages working for praise, and that leads to envy. We can’t seem to rejoice in another’s blessings without wondering why we didn’t get the preferment. Competition, along with the anxiety generated in us by an inundation of advertising meant to weaken our self-confidence, ruins our joy. Someone else can get the prize, or get the preferment, or get the promotion: The Lord has work for you that may not include any of those things. Be happy in the work of the Lord!
And when we do get the envied prize, the coveted preferment, the gainful promotion, then we are proud. We won! We are better! Have you ever noticed that the only personal trait in Jesus that is described to us is His sinlessness? It isn’t His skill in His trade, His athleticism, His rugged good looks. None of the usual traits that lead to fame are there. It is His willingness to do the work of the Father. Certainly, we must strive to be competent at our work, for we owe that to God who gives us our talents. But to desire and then gloat in worldly success because of them displaces them from heaven and drops them in the muck.
While we know we will not achieve sinlessness here in this world – for we are drawn into it not only by our own desires, but by the ways of the world that we cannot change – The Lord desires to forgive our sins and lead us in righteousness. All we need to do is walk in His light.