So this week we are talking about sin. It doesn’t happen a lot around here. I abhor the notion of sin, not because of what it means but because of the cultural baggage that we have attached to the idea.
Let me just say outright that the whole concept of a catalogue of sin, certain actions being in themselves sinful, is a very unhelpful way of thinking about sin.
Sin in the scriptures
In the holy texts there is no one word for sin! This is important. We believe that sin is a single thing. But reading the New Testament we find 10 different words that derive into 33 different notions of sin.
One means to refuse to listen to the prompting of the divine. One means to fall when one should have stood up. One means to not arrive with full measure. One means to miss the mark.
Missing the mark
The most important or at least the most frequently used word for sin in the new testament is hamartia which means to miss the mark. This word is used 147 times in the books of the New Testament. The word is what would be used at an archery competition for a shot that didn’t hit the bulls eye in the middle of the target. So this tells us that the New Testament idea of sin is almost but not quite, it’s close but no cigar, it’s simply put ‘not perfect’.
Seen from this perspective, sin, is just all the attempts before we get it right. It is the stepping stones towards success, it’s every dropped ball as I learn to juggle. It is every misstep on the way towards the ultimate goal.
What then is the goal?
See that is the ultimate question, isn’t it. If sin (and this seems to be a major focus in church these days) is missing the goal, what then is the goal? Jesus seems to summarise the goal by quoting the Shema, Love the lord your god with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself. In the light of this the goal is love. From the perspective of the perennial tradition, the goal is to be reunited with the divine. In my eyes tees two perspectives focus into a single goal, unity with god, immersed in love or maybe being divine love.
Sin shows us the way!
So from this perspective, missing the mark, falling when one should have been standing or showing up without full measure, sin is simply the indicator of how far from hitting the mark we are; showing us when and where to keep standing; showing us when we are holding back and not being ourselves fully.
Like Paul says about the law, it only shows us that we ‘are not there yet’. Sin then simply is life’s feedback, it is the ego popping up saying: ‘Hey, I am still here’. It is simply the absence of divine love in our thoughts and actions.
Shame or guilt?
If sin is simply how far we are from perfect then it’s not something we should beat ourselves up about. Here is where a healthy view on guilt and shame is very helpful.
To be guilty is to own your thoughts and actions. It is to say, Yes! It was me I did that, or I thought that. Guilt shouldn’t have to carry any enmotion with it. You can also be guilty of good things. Yes, I did that, I did the dishes, I am guilty! Guilt is the healthy confession to oneself and to others, it is the owning of ones thoughts and actions.
Shame on the other hand is a diabolical feeling. Instead of acknowledging an action or a thought and owning it, shame morphs into self hatred with: I did it, I am an awful and disgusting person, I understand that you want nothing to do with me.
If there is such a person as the devil, then shame is the only weapon that the devil ever had. The deception of shame is to transform guilt (owning the action or thought) into self hatred and self abasement, thus creating self made barriers between oneself and love.
So we need to let go of shame and let self awareness and self critique show us how we have missed the mark, not fully been our true selves, and then autocorrect, do over and do better.
When we can simply observe our daily shortcomings own them and learn from them, they become the stepping stones towards wholeness (holiness). Therefore it becomes evident that the one that falls often and gets up again, grows much. And so step by misstep we fall upwards towards wholeness and divine love!