How does God determine sin? Somewhere is there a listing of every sin that could possibly be committed? And does God keep track of every one of those? And does he categorize sins? Is one sin worse than another? It seems to me that viciously knifing my roommate to death would be a worse sin than driving 66 mph in a 65 mph zone. Can sins be categorized as felonies and misdemeanors? I suppose sin would follow the same rules as crime. You are a criminal if you commit one crime; you are a sinner if you commit one sin. The severity of the penalty and the frequency of the action matter not. In simple terminology, you are either a criminal or you aren’t; a sinner or you aren’t. But as humans we have a concept of a worse criminal. There’s a petty thief, and a vicious slasher. One is a horrible criminal, and the other is still a criminal, but the word seems rather harsh.
I know there are simple Sunday School answers to these questions. Sin is sin in God’s eyes (as if we can presume to know what God’s eyes see), and they are all equal sins in that they all separate us from eternal glory with Christ Jesus. Perfect answer for you, ten points in Theological Trivia. But you’ve failed to grapple with the question. Try again.
When does a sin count against me? Is it in the actual physical act? Or as Jesus alluded, does sin begin in my mind? Does the very thought of driving 66 mph in a 65 mph zone constitute a sin? And what if the Bible doesn’t talk about it? Certainly the Bible says murder is a no-no. But what about something as taboo as masturbation–a subject no one likes to bring up? The Bible never says ‘Thou shalt not–‘ I won’t go there. But you get my point. Sure, some people dig deep into the Old Testament and pull some verses out of context to say that semen should not be allowed to touch the ground, therefore masturbation is a sin–which sounds all happy and logical until you realize there’s a plethora of teenage boys out there who are now sinners in their sleep, vile commiters of the nocturnal emission (not to mention the larger plethora of boys guilty of the first offense). Then there are others saying it’s quite all right, have fun. Of course those words leave a funny taste in your mouth when you consider Jesus’ words to not commit adultery in your heart. While masturbating can you successfully keep all adulterous thoughts from your mind? No pun intended, but it seems like a very sticky issue.
And what about a passage of time when what was once a sin is suddenly no longer a sin for a particular person. Marriage is the only example I can think of. In a space of time having sex transforms from being a sin of adultery to an act of loving confirmation. And what is that space of time? Is it only official when the bride and groom leave church, or can they get it on in the middle of the service? Now I’ve offended you, but can you answer my question? When does the couple suddenly become married and sex no longer a sin? A profound change occurs in that forty minute service, and for once I’m beginning to see a mystical holiness in the Catholic understanding of the sacraments. Something greater than we can understand must be going on if what was once a sin is suddenly acceptable. And what makes it acceptable? Is it the words of an ordained priest, or will the stamp of the state of Minnesota be adequate?
These are all legalistic questions and I highly doubt God is that concerned. But does it just come down to a relative answer? God knows my heart and he knows when it’s a sin and when it’s not? Gee, that’s great for God, but what about me? Or do I not matter?
These questions and more are why God didn’t put me in charge. Sometimes you just have to let God be God, and be content with that.
My Absent Voter’s Ballot came today. It’s an intriguing mix of mystery, power, and wonder. As I look over the ballot I see a number of names and parties I don’t recognize. I’m filled with a feeling of independent freedom, a feeling that my vote is powerful. At the same time, does it really matter? Would a vote for John Hagelin of the Natural Law party mean anything? Part of me says yes, while I know Hagelin won’t come close to having 1% of the vote, it would send a message to the big time parties that they aren’t meeting the needs of some people. At the same time, that’s a tiny percentage of people. It feels like a game of numbers. Is a vote for Ralph Nader really a vote for George W. Bush? Does it have to come down to two major parties and a few rinkydink minor parties that squabble for a chance to prove that 2% of the American population isn’t satisfied with the democrats and the republicans. And why does it always come down to squabbling? It’s pretty obvious from watching the debates that both candidates have different views on different issues because they approach problems from different angles. Why can’t they sit down and spell out how they solve problems and why, and then debate the attributes of those approaches? They can make all kinds of accusations, but it’s all because they do things differently. Can we clear away the rhetoric and look at the issues? When that becomes clear then there is no more room for debate. There is only room for the action of the American voter. We have this wonderful democracy, but we make it so difficult.
I just wrote the biggest check in my life for an apartment that is mine. The money behind the check is money I earned, the apartment is one my fiance and I found; this is our place. For the first time in my life I’ve done something that’s wholly mine, separate from my parents. It’s not a loan that Dad applied for and I sign off on. It’s not a dorm room that these amorphous loans pay for. It’s an apartment that is my responsibility. It is my home.
This is at once a grand, majestic, and happy feeling; and an overbearing, immense, and powerful feeling. Of course I still had to have daddy co-sign the lease. There was no way around that. But I feel like for once in my life I’ve done something on my own. I’m becoming independent. When the rent check is due, it’s my responsibility. My dad will have nothing to do with it. And if he does, I’m in big trouble. It’s a tremendous sense of responsibility, and it leaves me with one thought; now all I need is a job.
I’m beginning to understand something that in hind sight seems kind of obvious. The strength of a product, institution, or service is dependant on the standards imposed upon it, the support it receives, and the performance of the worker. That seems kind of obvious, but I think it’s something we often ignore. For example, in the workplace workers will often only aspire to the standard they are held to by their superiors. If it is a low standard, low output will result. If it is a high standard, higher output will result. This is also dependant on the worker’s performance and the support the worker receives. If the worker receives no training, the output will reflect that. If the worker doesn’t have the proper tools for the job, the output will reflect that. And if the worker is having an off day, his performance will be weakened and the output will suffer.
This is pretty basic stuff. Yet how often do we forget it in our day to day dealings that should reflect the hard, honest work God expects from us? If a church publication has no standards, the product can only be so good. If a college newspaper has no support, even the best staff can only make it so good. If the editor of a magazine receives no training, the magazine will suffer, dependant on the ability of that editor to perform in spite of the handicap–and yet the magazine won’t be as good as if the editor was properly trained. If the employees are not performing, standards and support will mean nothing.
You may wonder what brought this up. It comes from looking around and noticing when things are lacking. A radio station has virtually no audience. Why? Little or no support and few standards. A publication is struggling to function effectively. Why? No standards and the workers were not properly trained (and maybe even not well compensated). If you want something to succeed you have to ensure that these aspects are taken care of. Otherwise you’re simply doing a half-ass job. Somehow I think God has called us to much more than that.
I’m a cynic. I know that. In the past few years I’ve slipped into this position, and I’m fully aware of it. I’m okay with it. But being a cynic is very difficult when you go to church. Anything religious is a mental accident for the cynic. But it’s very helpful knowing this as I walk into any Christian setting. I know my mind will be mocking half the people I see, the comments I hear, the amen’s at broad generalizations. But there’s also part of me that knows the rest of me is a cynic and tells that part of me to shut up. There’s this part of me that hasn’t been taken over by the cynic, and it knows that God can still work through the perky woman who adores pithy phrases. It knows I might need to hear something said by someone my cynical side wants to ridicule. And so I enter religious settings like I’m walking on glass, trying to let God come in and speak to me, and trying even harder not to ridicule his mouthpiece.
Continue reading Too Easy to Mock