Monday, January 14, 2013

Vocabulary of Our Faith: "Sin"

Last week it was "Faith." This week we took a look at "Sin." Of all the words and concepts we use in the Christian Faith, I think "sin" is the most misunderstood. That is, there are other words that are harder to understand (like grace and salvation), but sin is the one that everyone acts like he knows when in fact he doesn't. Much like the concept behind the word, it leads us astray.

We spent some time in class looking at the Greek for sin ("hamartia"), and we talked about its various meanings and connotations. We spent some time looking at the multiple (at least 9) words in Hebrew that can be translated as "sin," suggesting that it's a relative concept that's hard to pin down. But all of that language study left us pretty much where we started: still not really knowing what sin is.

Then we turned to Romans. A quick word search of the New Testament will show that the word "sin" occurs in Romans more than in any other book. It's Paul's treatise on sin. In class, we looked at Romans 5, where Paul talks about the inherited nature of sin. Just as sin entered the world through one man's trespass... And that's where the real key for me was--getting past the occasional, individual-event-based concept of sin and embracing the far more insidious concept of sin-nature.

And one little illustration drove this point home.

Are babies sinful? When we baptize a baby and say things like "washed from sin," in what way do we mean it? And, even more powerfully, in the prayers at the death of a small child, we pray that all sins this person may have contracted in his life might be removed. In what way does it make sense to say that a toddler has sinned? The fact that we're inherently uncomfortable with language like that suggests that we have the wrong understanding of sin in mind.

Sin isn't a laundry list of misdeeds. When we pray for a baby, we don't have ax-murderer in mind. We mean the brokenness that is inherent of all human beings--the brokenness that manifests itself (later in life) in the laundry list of "things done and left undone." But those misdeeds are symptoms of a bigger problem. Sin is simply the fact that I need saving.

We watched this video from Fr. Matthew Presents on the definition of sin. He advocates a language of "blockage"--as if sin is the thing that blocks our ability to receive God's good things. As he points out, that's better than separation language or pride language, but it still leaves something to be desired. (How can human beings possible block God's good gifts, which are given to us even while sinful?) The point is, though, that sin is that thing which gets in the way of the way things are supposed to be. It's what we call the not-rightness of the world.

So when we fall on our knees and say that we're sorry to God, it's ok for us to remember the long litany of things we've done wrong. Those are concrete reminders of the bigger problem. But what we really need to lament and ask redemption for is our brokenness. We are not separated from God, but we are out of step with the way God wants things to be. That isn't the result of our mistakes. Our mistakes are the result of our brokenness. God doesn't get mad at us when we screw up. Those screw ups are a reminder that we need God. Jesus came not to save us from our mistakes but to make us whole.

Here's this week's PowerPoint presentation. Next week, we look at Grace.

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