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.]