I met someone recently who told me that they committed 130 sins in a week. Which seems quite a lot and a bit specific by any standard! Not only that, but they said, they were allowed to commit 130 sins a week. I wondered whether I had said something which had led them to that impression.
Of course the sins that they were speaking about was some new diet which uses the word sins to highlight boundaries and targets for weight loss. Further investigation on my part shows that those who have come up with the diet even spell the word in a different way – syn as opposed to sin.
In my mind it highlights a difficulty that we have in the present time about sin. What do we mean when we talk about sin? Is sin a black mark, that thing that makes us uncomfortable, something whch we bracket all form of wrong doing underneath, a kind of catch-all? In a way no one takes sin seriously any longer. It could also be argued no one any longer knows what it means.
You know one of those old houses that you see that are dilapidated, doors hanging off, windows smashed, rooms stripped bare. You pass it and you know that no one lives there any longer. In the same way sin feels like that, no one thinks like that any more, no one uses the word, no one thinks of their life in that way any longer. It is a word that doesn’t sit well. It’s a word of the religiously neurotic, the weak, those who don’t take control of their own lives, so people say. There are faults in people’s behaviour, there are psychological reasons why people do things that we understand now better than we ever did, they say. But sin what it is at the end of the day, is it just a reason for nit taking responsibility for your actions?
We are in good company if we don’t know what sin is. The ancients of the old testament and new testament thought that if you had some misfortune in life, it was a result of sin on your part or your parents or their parents. Some cosmic settling of a score, some divine retribution. The man in the Gospel today is born blind and they think he is a sinner. Jesus doesn’t hold with that and neither do any of us. People are blind, deaf, lame, sick because of medical reasons not because of sin. But people sometimes think along these lines when something bad happens to them, is this some sort of payment for something I have done in the past they say.
What we have come to know in the 20th and 21st century is that human beings are very complex, much if the reason why do things have very many layers attached to them. For instance we are deeply influenced by the events of our childhood, we are influenced by moments of human trauma, our values come from all sorts of experiences. The human mind and the human heart are very complex and the reason we end up doing good or bad has many layers that lie behind it. Some in which we are personally at fault and some where there is little fault or none.
Human sin is not an imperfection, as say a blemish on a skin is. Human sin is not a psychological fault or disorder. Human sin is not a character defect. Human sin is not bad manners.
Human sin arises from the deepest reality of human beings in their relationship with God. There are ways of acting that run contrary to the way that we are created. There are ways if thinking that are wrong. There are actions which are self destructive and harmful to others. There are roads to take that don’t lead anywhere. In a way it can only be understood in this context our relationship with God.
In the world, for those with the eyes of faith, we can see the destructive power of sin. In wars, in human conflicts, in the lack of justice in the world, in human behaviour that I selfish, sin is present. It can eat away at people, it can do great harm, it can destroy.
People outside the church very often say we speak too much about sin, but maybe we don’t speak enough about it.
It’s not unusual to find people who say that they have no sins. It’s not unusual to find people who don’t believe there is any sins at all. It is not difficult to find most people who don’t daily have an examination of conscience. It’s not unusual to find people who excuse their sins as human faults and who absolve themselves of wrong doing. It’s not unusual to find people who have not been to confession for years and think they have no reason to go.
Is there not the greatest deception here: to think that I have no sins, that I can ignore my sins and they will go away, that I can forgive or absolve myself. Is the chaos in human beings not a result of sin which allows selfishness, that permits any action, that doesn’t hold accountable the person for their actions? Is the result of so much human chaos the abandonment of the human relationship with God and losing our way in life and becoming like lemmings rushing ti the cliff edge and fall off to our doom?
The world says very often that we are alone. That there are no roads to follow. There is no light to guide our steps. There is no relationship with God and there is no God to whom we are accountable for our actions. We say and think and actt differently. Grace burns in our souls but so does sin. We are anointed like King David in the Gospel, chosen, consecrated, special, blessed but wayward too like him, easily led and easily blown off course.
Sin is a very complex thing. It can easily be snared and entangled with human guilt and shame. It can easily become a neurosis like any other neurosis. Sin for us is being in a prison in which there is an indefinite sentence and no key to open the gate. But there is a key and there is a way out and there is no need to spend a lifetime languishing there. There is the Lord himself who sets us free, there is the fresh air of freedom, there is a way out, if we would only realise it.