Missing the Mark

Sin is such an unpopular word. It makes everyone uncomfortable. Either it conjures up images of wickedness and depravity that make the righteous shutter, or it stirs up feelings of judgment and rejection that make the less than righteous uncomfortable.

But I’d like to propose that our definition with sin is off. On Sunday the pastor (and you’ll have to excuse my wording — I don’t think pastor is the appropriate term for an Episcopal priest, but I’m just not used to the word priest. It doesn’t work for me) made an off-hand comment about sin. He said the original meaning in the Greek is to miss the mark. The image in the Greek is like an archer missing the target. Sin is missing the mark.

This presents an entirely new image in my mind. Sin is not a list of things that are bad and things you shouldn’t do. Sin is not defined by what is wrong; in fact, it’s defined by what is right. Rather than asking if something is a sin, you should be asking if it’s right. Rather than asking if you shouldn’t do something, you should be asking what you should do.

Some may see this as a heretical definition that’s sliding towards some form of liberal theology. But this definition is actually harder to follow. It’s more strict. You can’t feel comfortable simply because you’re avoiding the evils on your sin list. You also have to be doing the right things. Simply avoiding evil isn’t enough. You have to pursue righteousness, or you’re just as lost. You have to be totally on-fire — half-cooked won’t do.

I think this view of sin is what the world longs for. People are tired of being told what not to do. Don’t have sex. Don’t do drugs. Don’t hate. Don’t steal. Yeah, well what am I supposed to do? Defining sin as a list of don’t’s does it an injustice. You’re still missing the mark if you neglect to do the right things — you’re still sinning.

Don’t ask is it sinful to watch this movie, ask is it the right way to spend your evening. Don’t ask if it’s a sin to beat up your sister; ask what you should do for your sister.

As the confession states, “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

Sin is not simply an act committed; it is also an act left undone.

I think this is what often makes Christianity a failure. What good are we if we obey the laws and respect our elders, but we don’t feed the poor and lift up the down trodden? What good are we if we sing the praises of God, but we don’t read the Bible? What good are we if we never say a dirty word, but we never say a loving word either? What good are we if we never think a lustful thought, but we never show grace to the prostitute?

Either follow God, or don’t. Be hot or cold; not lukewarm. Finish the job, or don’t even start; don’t do a half-assed job.

[In writing that last line I had to stop and think. Is it sinful to use the word “ass”? Of course that’s not the question to ask. Is it godly and righteous to use the word “ass”? I thought about this for a moment before posting today’s thought. Does it meet the standard of pure and lovely things Paul commands us to think on in Philippians? I think it’s acceptable. I’m using language to drive a point home, and I think that is commendable. Is it profanity? What is profanity? A list of words that man decided are dirty and bad? Whenever swearing is mentioned in the Bible it’s in relation to giving an oath. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Damning something, taking the Lord’s name in vain, or trying to reinforce your answer by invoking God are all examples of a misuse of language: profanity. But I don’t see how a word like “ass” or even “fuck” fits that definition. Is the word harsh to our ears? Yes, simply because society has taught us these words are bad. Society has made them bad, they are not inherently bad. Perhaps I should avoid using them, or use them rarely simply because of this argument (abstain so as to keep a brother from stumbling). But the same would go for any expression, any decent writer will tell you that. And this is my thought process. Maybe you think I’m just rationalizing my sin, missing the mark because I chose to use a word that’s somehow less holy. I guess I don’t see that as missing the mark. I’m making my point, I’m hitting the mark.]

7 thoughts on “Missing the Mark”

  1. right on man you got the right answer and people all over the world (christians) are figuring this out slowly but surely.

  2. And evil is a measure of how far your arrow misses the “straight and narrow” of doing the right.

  3. you have a point (or a mark).

    I wonder also if ‘sin’ (hamartio) is about something deeper than stuff we do or not do. Maybe it’s about a necessary yearning and unknowing we are created with in order to send us off searching for union with our source, to question status quo and to grow our character through adversity.

    Is it about how learning happens through trying, making mistakes or ‘missing the bulls eye’ and trying again till we get it more and more fully?

    Maybe we start with God in the beginning, get born to learn our way back to God in the end?

  4. sin is…not believing in Me(JESUS)John 16: 9 resulting in evident works of the flesh being manifested Galatians 5:19. His presence in the person of the Holy Spirit in us brings fruit (not fruits). While our brother’s trend of thought is positive and thoght provoking, it nevertheless only helps in enhancing guilty conscience on the liberated.

  5. Thank you for this article. I have found lately as well that when I focus on what I am not to do that is what I end up hitting with my proverbial arrow. By acknowledging that I missed and having a renewed commitment to focus on and hit the mark I learn how to be a good archer. I learn to live in accordance with God’s will.

  6. I agree with what you say about sin and how christrians have contaminated the word with judgements and condemnation, motivation through fear to the obediance of God, to do good. how the meaning of one word can really lead people astray. When we recognise that our beliefs are always susceptable to leading one astray, until we begin to value or hearts/feeling component above our heads beliefs we will always be vulnrable. When you talk about slang words, pay attention to the feelings the word used may conjure up in your self and others, you will easly recognise by the feelings that rise if it is appropriate to use. Religion to spirituality is the same as beliefs to expereice one values the word of “God” above all else no matter if they fall from grace doing it, the other is valueing ones heart /feeling component, the expereice of Gods love becomes more valuable then any beliefs about god. this is the navigating from our heads to our hearts, our hearts being the long neglected feminine/feeling aspect of our being.

  7. What you have stumbled upon is the notion that not only are there sins of Commission, but there are sins of Omission.

    It’s been in our bibles all along in James 4:17

    “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins”

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