This month’s question for columns Rev. Bob Norris and I have been writing is, “What is sin?” For some, the answer contains the keys to Heaven. For progressives, it is about how we share this life. Regardless, sin is central to our shared lives on this earth.
Alas, we all do it. Liberal and conservative Christians agree on a literal interpretation of Romans 3:23. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But are our sins about individual lives or how we live together among God’s creation?
A popular metaphor comes from Billy Graham’s sermons. Rev. Graham said sin is like an archer who misses the target. “He draws back his bow and sends the arrow on its way, but instead of hitting the bull’s eye, it veers off course and misses the mark. The arrow may only miss it a little bit or it may miss it a great deal, but the result is the same.” The arrow doesn’t land where either the archer or God would like.
But doesn’t the greatest commandment that we love God and love one another elevate the meaning of sin beyond individual lives?
Understanding sin starts with God’s decision to give humans freewill. It was a profound choice. Think about it. Genesis 1:26-27 claims that humans are created in “the image of God.” Whatever the “image of God” may mean, the analogy doesn’t include perfection. God might have created us to be as perfect as God. We could have been created so that sinning was beyond either our capability or our imagination.
God made an altogether different choice. God gave us the power to do that which God does not want us to do. You might even say that God created us with the inability to do all that God wants us to do, and a proclivity to do that which God would rather we didn’t, alongside an abiding desire to please God.
The myth of the Garden of Eden teaches that we are not born with the stain of “original sin.” The myth depicts a God who gave us everything we need and then thought, that in our abundance, we’d make the right choices. Then we encountered our first choice between sin and God. It came after we’ve learned right from wrong because until then we don’t even know we are being given a choice.
But, our lives aren’t like those of Adam and Eve mythology. We are not all born into abundance. That explains the necessity Jesus felt to reduce all of the law to two commandments. Some are born with more; some with less. Our lives are not like a game of Monopoly where each player starts on a level playing field with the same $1500 and a roll of the dice.
In this culture, life is more like another child’s game. “Musical chairs” is designed to make sure someone gets left out. There are always fewer chairs than players. The music plays. Players move around the circle. But when the music stops, as it inevitably does, there are never enough chairs for everyone. The game is designed to leave someone behind at the end of each round.
That is life in a world where humans have freewill. We’ve taken the abundance of the Garden of Eden and turned it into a game of musical chairs. Our sin is the greed, racism, sexism, violence, and environmental destruction staining our souls and marginalizing the least of these our brothers and sister.
These sins deny Billy Graham’s bow and arrow metaphor. These sins are not attempts to hit God’s bull’s eye. They are self-serving, freewill efforts denying the value of Creation and the humanness of our brothers and sisters.
That is sin.
Jesus tells us how our lives will be assessed. Matthew 25 is the clearest proclamation of what will be considered sin on judgment day. It is the failure to alleviate the suffering of those who are hungry, sick, naked, homeless, imprisoned and hurting.