This pandemic has given me a lot of time to think. I’ve spent a lot of that time contemplating God. How we come to understand God. How we interact with the Bible. How our understanding of God impacts the way we treat and care for each other. How our common understandings of Divinity have helped define our culture. How our examination of these shared understandings reshapes the communities we belong to (or, in some cases, once belonged to). And, if last week’s post is any indication, I spend a lot of time thinking about the concept of sin.
I should be clear: I believe it is possible to believe any number of things about sin (including its nonexistence) and still believe in the concept of God. But I must confess that I personally have a hard time reconciling the idea of a benevolent Creator with the reality of… *gestures widely* all this. It is difficult for me to acknowledge the reality of so many gross injustices across the globe throughout history and the present while testifying about a God who is both good and powerful without naming the dissonance between the two. In all my years of Christian formation and academic study, I’ve yet to come across a better name for that dissonance than “sin.”
Sin is that which separates us from the fullness of God’s goodness. For a long time, I was led to believe that it was only the things I did (a little fib here, a couple of swears there, maybe some fornication if I was lucky enough) that separated me from God. It was interacting with the Bible that eventually disabused me of that notion. In addition to numerous assertions that God would never leave us nor forsake us, the Bible also suggests that God uses fibbers, swearers, fornicators, murderers, and the perpetrators of a litany of other unsavory deeds as key players in the redemptive narrative. In fact, David, a man whose life would make the writers’ room of the raunchiest HBO series blush, was even described as “a man after God’s own heart.” If I’m being fully transparent, the thing I admire the most about David is not his mighty conquests or his ability to unite the diverse peoples of Israel and Judah, but his humility in owning the fullness of his atrocities. David was a man whose pride led him to exploit people on numerous occasions. But David was also a man who was shown to lament when he was presented with the rot that he’d introduced into the fruit of his labor. Nathan did not reprimand David simply for the act of fornicating. Nathan reprimanded David for victimizing a woman and her husband. Sin leaves victims behind.
When I recognize that sin is a far greater issue than my personal missteps, that sin is the gulf between God’s goodness and the current condition of the world we live in, the gospel makes a lot more sense to me. This fuller concept of sin makes sense of the idea of us being “born in sin.” Jesus being crucified because I once used a fake ID is not good news, even if he was eventually raised from the dead. Jesus being crucified because the world he lived in had become so attached to a status quo he threatened follows logic much more closely, and that reality gives The Way of Jesus a more definitive shape. That speaking out against sin comes at great cost is a truth that plays out in front of us each and every day. But it isn’t speaking out against individual missteps that puts your life in danger. It is speaking out against the systems that rob some of their humanity in order to enrich others that Jesus models. The sin that Jesus died for is the sin that shapes society.
But the Good News of Jesus is that, though death surely came, it was not the end. The Good News of Jesus is that speaking out against the sin we were born into (and that working to undo its impact on our neighbors) is still a worthy lifestyle. The Good News is that if killing Jesus couldn’t stop him, then nothing can. And that’s why I’m a Chrisitian. Because I’m all too familiar with sin. I know what it’s like to be the one doing the pressing, and I know what it’s like to be the one being crushed. I know what grief feels and looks like. I’ve sat with sorrow and slept with anger. And The Way of Jesus tells me that God is perfectly embodied when we are sick of it all, and willing to live and die for a different reality where freedom is the status quo.
I am a Christian because Jesus of Nazareth saw what we saw, grieved with real grief, fought a real fight, died a real death, and STILL didn’t stop.
And that’s a God I can get jiggy with.
I loved your article. We Christians (and everyone) needs this expanded view of sin, beyond just our personal sins.