For some reason we seem to have a hard time talking about sin in helpful ways. In some churches it is never mentioned. In others it seems to be the only topic worthy of a sermon. In all cases, at least in contemporary American culture, the word sin has taken on a hard to define meaning that teeters somewhere between biblically illegal and disgustingly immoral. That is not helpful.
If love covers a multitude of sins, sin covers a multitude of behaviors that can be understood in many ways. For instance, I am a man who was once divorced and have long been married to a woman who was also once divorced. Is that sinful? Yes, it is. We were each married to other people under conditions in which we were not able to live into God’s promised blessings. It’s the classic missing the mark kind of sin. The bible says that divorced persons who remarry have committed adultery. Is that true? Well, I guess it is, and that also is a sin because something that God intends for the best in human relationships had not happened, or had it? Thankfully, ours is a God of second chances. Our marriage of over 27 years has been one of blessings without end from the very first day and through all kinds of weather. When people ask us if a joyfully fulfilled Christian marriage is possible, we point to ourselves and say, “Just have a look.”
When someone comes to me with a questions that begins, “Am I committing a sin if I ….,” I don’t even need to know the rest of the sentence. The answer is almost always yes. It’s what being human involves, and I don’t think that requires buying into the utterly depraved business so popular among some Calvinists. It does require further exploration of how our behavior is so often an obstacle to God’s blessings, but an obstacle that can be overcome so that we are not separated from God’s redeeming love for us.
Our sinfulness does not condemn us to eternal punishment in hell, and constant threats of that are, in my opinion, sins of great magnitude themselves. Our sinfulness is what God in Christ came to redeem – once for all.
There are, of course, sins of enormous immoral evil, and I am inclined to think that we are a bit to quick to apply our own prejudices in naming them for others but excusing them for ourselves, especially if they are corporate in nature, as in, say, the genocidal policies of our governments that erased enough Indians to make way for the European settlement of North America. But that’s for another time.
What I might close with is to touch on that very raw nerve, abortion. Since pop culture demands that we be labeled either pro-life or pro-choice, I’ll claim the pro-choice bumper sticker. But, is abortion a sin always and everywhere? Of course it is. Something has gone very wrong in the scheme of things that God would have it be for the best that life could offer. That does not mean that abortion should be made illegal. Abortion may be the least sinful and safest response. It’s a tough decision best left to the woman, her doctors and people she trusts to offer sound spiritual advice in the sure and certain faith that God’s redeeming love will be present. In the end, I have a great deal of faith in God to work it out. I have very little faith in the legislature to do it, and no faith in people who are hysterically anti abortion while showing little interest in being pro-life.