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Sin?

I find the concept of sin very confusing.

I’m a pastor, you would think I should have this down, but I don’t.

I can tell you all about the definition of the word and I can teach you about what the word actually is in Greek. I can exegete (fancy church language for interpreting) some Scriptural passages for you. But it all seems to be lacking.

There are religious people who will attempt to give you lists, even Paul, author of a lot of those New Testament letters, loved his lists of things Christians should not do. The problem with these lists being the sole definition of sin is that it limits the discussion to behaviors and contexts Paul or any other list maker is familiar with.

Let me suggest another possibility that’s about half-formed in my mind. Somewhere between reading ch 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel, The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute, and I-Thou by Martin Buber, this idea began to come together for me.

Sin is any behavior, word, thought, or feeling that moves a human, including ourselves, from human to object.

Let me give you some of my building blocks and we’ll see if you agree:

  • In the ch 5-7 of Matthew, Jesus lays out the best Christianity 101 ever. Part of His message is a list of laws that He then takes to a different place.“You have heard it said…but I tell you,” is His formula. The laws He’s referring to deal with behaviors, but Jesus takes us to a place of intention behind the behavior. Law = cheating on your significant other is bad. Jesus = the bad starts with lust. Lust is not attraction to another human being that could lead to a life-giving relationship, lust is ONLY about physical attraction and what one wishes to do to another human being.
  • In Buber’s book, Buber lays out two basic words/concepts that are at the heart of all human experience and understanding. I-You is pure experience found at the heart of human to human relationship. (Buber actually includes the possibility of an I-You moment with a tree, but we’re going to stick with people for this topic.) I-It is when analysis and manipulation jump in. Let’s just continue with our example above. I-You would experience the whole person as beautiful and would be completely present with that person for however long the encounter lasted, even if it was just momentary eye contact. I-It leaves the experience of relationship to make judgments about desirability and what it would take to advance the encounter to something physical.
  • Last piece, once we move a person from I-You to I-It, it does not matter how we treat the other person or what our behaviors are, they will be able to read our intention on some level and it will alter the relationship. Back to the lust. It does not matter how sweet and noble we act if all we’re thinking about is how to use the other person. Our thoughts will change the dynamics toward the sexual somehow.
  • You could put any example in the above points: anger, impatience, the need to control, etc etc etc.

Back to my proposed understanding of sin:

Sin is any behavior, word, thought, or feeling that moves a human, including ourselves, from human to object.

How the hell do we fight that??

I have thoughts on that and they are pretty straightforward to understand. I am stealing/modifying this from The 12 Steps.

  • We have to be aware of this tendency of ours to I-It people and admit that we cannot control it. (Romans 7:13-20 speaks to this.)
  • We have to believe in a higher power. The Triune God is my jam, particularly since Jesus enters into humanity to show us: that He gets us, how life without sin could be, and to change our relationship with God. (John 10:7-17 is my favorite but there are SO many passages about Jesus being the path to life.)
  • We have to allow God to take over our will through the power of the Holy Spirit and teach us the better way. (Back to Paul! 2 Corinthians 5:13-21)

Lists of behaviors are too easy to misinterpret and manipulate. My understanding of sin is far more challenging in a lot of ways but may actually go further in helping us heal the big problems we are facing. (Not to brag.) Imagine all the ways the world (yes, world) would be different if none of us ever lost sight of the beautiful humanity of every person? Children wouldn’t be allowed to starve, rape would be inconceivable, and the cost of war in terms of life lost would be unbearable. Not to mention the health brought to friendships, co-workers, marriages, parent-child, etc, etc, etc. The way we treat our own bodies would have to change. Even care for creation would have to change because unsustainability is deeply connected to the objectification of other people and future generations.

I am always game for a lively discussion. Thank you for reading my initial thoughts on sin.

Blessings.


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Alexis Johnson is a mom of two, married to a seminary student/new clergy, an Ordained Elder in the Iowa UMC, and feeds three furry mammals. So busy. Alexis is busy. But she is passionate about God and passionate about people. She is always up for good conversations and connecting, especially if there is coffee or wine involved.

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