Sin: Can We Talk About It?

About a week ago, one of my Facebook (FB) friends posted this comment as a status up-date: “Everybody sins & God loves everybody. No exceptions. How come people like to separate the clauses?” I may not have given the comment much notice, but this FB friend is known to be theologically articulate and progressive. At first glance, I thought the comment seemed a bit shallow and representative of the kind of theology one would find on a bumper sticker. The incongruence of the statement coming from someone known to be theologically articulate gave me reason to ponder the comment. I thought I’d share some of my reflections on the two parts: “everybody sins” and “God loves everybody.”

Sin. What is it? The word is used a great deal and generally makes people uncomfortable. In the United States, social conservatives refer to personal actions like adultery, abortion, and sex between members of the same gender as sin. Social progressives tend to view failing to care for the poor and social injustice as sin. Much like everything else, we tend to approach sin in a relativistic way. Is sin like pornography? You know it when you see it. Or maybe sin is like that definition of promiscuity that holds that a promiscuous person is someone who has more sex than I do.

My progressive Christian friends don’t talk much about sin. The conservative Christians I know seem fixated on sin. When I’m with Buddhists, I don’t hear the word used. But I did have a Buddhist friend from Vietnam who regularly claimed that doing particular things were sins. When I asked her about this, she said that in Buddhism there are lots of sins.

The most common word used for sin in the Christian New Testament is the Greek word hamartia. It’s an archery term that literally means missing the mark or the target. In archery, if a person misses the mark, then there’s something flawed in the process of shooting the arrow. It’s not so much that someone does something wrong, but that there’s an incorrect approach to one’s stance, holding the arrow, aiming, etc. I presume that most of those reading this are like me and have no more experience with archery than playing an archery video game. But think of what goes into hitting a hole in one in golf, successfully shooting a foul shot in basketball, making a penalty kick in soccer or a turkey in bowling. Hitting the mark isn’t about just one thing. Hitting the mark involves a process in which one performs a set of skills with a precision. When one misses the mark, the hole in one, the foul shot, the penalty kick, something’s wrong with the process. That’s the essence of sin.

The writers of the New Testament didn’t understand sin as an act but as a way of being or doing that isn’t integrated, centered or properly balanced. Because sin is related to something that’s out of balance, we miss the mark. This understanding of sin was prevalent in Christianity for most of its first thousand years. It was lost to the narrow focus of sin as a particular action that came from penitential manuals created by Irish monks of Medieval Europe.

It’s useful for us to consider the ways in which our lives are out of balance. The truth is: we all live in a way that’s not centered. We work too much. We eat too much. We don’t exercise enough. We can be judgmental, demanding, impatient, and on and on. In other words, we all sin. We also know that when we experience life as balanced, when we have a sense of internal alignment, we treat self and others differently then when we’re out of balance.

When I think of experiencing that internal alignment or balance, I recall the experience of wholeness I find in meditation or contemplative prayer. There are also times when I write and the creative juices flow and everything in me seems to be focused and work together. There are other times as well, as in intimate moments with my beloved, when present to another in need of support, or when I’ve been walking or bike riding and find the rhythm of my body and the rhythm of nature around me moving as one. The experience of internal alignment or balance can be found in the experience of doing anything.

Living in balance and integration is a dimension of what Buddhists refer to as mindfulness. The practice of keeping one’s mind focused in the present moment has the ability to open us to the balance and integration that allows us to hit the mark. The balance and integration that allow us to hit the mark are tangible aspects of God’s love. It’s the opposite of the imbalance and lack of integration that is described as sin.

Next week I’ll continue and reflect further on the theme of God’s love and how I understand it to relate to hitting the mark. For now, perhaps you can take a moment to think about or share as a comment something about your experience of hitting the mark and living out of the experience of balance and wholeness.

© 2011, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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3 Responses to Sin: Can We Talk About It?

  1. Keirani says:

    I enjoyed your article. the definition has been obscured by most current day churches.. So it was refreshing to read this.

    Its unfortunate… Because often by it being misinterpreted those very same groups are actually causing sin upon others. ^__^;

    Simply put one has a choice in all they do: The decisions they make affect not only themselves but many others. If they cause another to be brought down by their decision, this is Sin. For it leaves its mark on the people it hurts emotionally.

    So for instance: Lust – has negative psychological effects to both the person experiencing lust, and the one being lusted after because it removes the soul connection portion of a relationship (physical desire over soul connection).

    The concept of honoring ones marriage and not commit adultery, is honoring the vow of what was once promised upon uniting with another soul. Also, the cause and effect of parents not staying together, even though not often discussed is quite traumatic to the children or having ones parents relationship be destroyed because one committed adultery has terrible emotional impact on all party’s involve.

    The most common argued topic: Homosexuality… Is only relevant if looked under lust. All scripture discussing it, always refers to lust specifically. (unless your using NLT translation… they alter the meaning quite a bit on that topic…) And this is apparent for God created all animals, and homosexuality is common in nature…

    But man can transcend instinct. And many consider homosexuality as instinct… .. But in this case, if the relationship between the two are bound by true selfless love then it is most certainly not instinct, and can actually be love. Because even science today shows that gender in the brain are a bit more complicated then we previously thought. Wich would explain why there are people who feel the opposite gender then what their body is. (I suppose this one is down to observing when you know people in those situations to see if they are being honest or just doing it for attention. The ones I have met I am 100% sure they are being honest. It would have been a very difficult thing for them to do to begin with.)

    I believe these are things God is bringing back to our attention, so we can once again understand and be aware of the effects of our actions what in these days of confusion.

    and like faith, we know emotion exists, we cannot prove it but we know its real because we feel it…

    feeling positive, joyful is the energy of God.
    For God is love!

    on the other hand causing others or the self to experience pain and suffering no one wishes to feel. ~ so knowing this, one can fully see the truth about sin.

    Thank you for taking the time to spread some love and light Rev.

  2. Lou says:

    Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts.

  3. Tony Cuckson says:

    Lovely post. Having been brought up as an Irish protestant and being constantly assured that I was a sinner and was bound for hell I sought out my own understanding of this word that makes sense to me.

    I take sin to mean the experience of separateness that we all feel and take for granted because we totally identify with the body and our time and space existance. This is the centre that we miss and it is in learning to abide within this centre through feeling the connection that we know (not just intellectually) but directly that God who is Love (not loving) is not separate and can never be separate from anyone of us.

    Blessings

    Tony

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