Tag Archives: sin

Let’s take a whack at sin.

This week, Matt Lauer was the most recent cultural icon to tumble at the revelation that he had offensively coerced women into sexual situations against their will.  Lauer, unlike some of the politicians, musicians, and comedians who’ve been accused of similar sins in recent days, was widely perceived as a good guy — upstanding, smart, and friendly.  Not the kind of sleaze ball you’d expect to grope a gal in the back room.

The headline has people reeling.  What is going on with our culture when one after another of our idols falls?  When #MeToo has been retweeted half a million times?  Women, so long powerless against this kind of abuse, have linked arms.  Revolution is brewing.

A quick scan of the Yahoo news feed reads like a chapter of Judges.  Among the first 15 headlines today, there are reports of a 10-year-old’s suicide, a grown man sucker-punching a guy with cerebral palsy, a missing teen who’s run off with her gym coach, and two gruesome murders.  That’s not to mention the sex assault stories.

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Photo by steam_rocket on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

We have a problem.  Yes, it’s a sin problem.  But it’s also a vocabulary problem.  We have no words for this.

Here it is in a nutshell:  modern folks can’t abide the idea of sin, and to a point they are quite logical.  We’ve discarded the old-fashioned notion along with the (laughable) authority of sacred texts and the (naïve) concept of God.  How could an ancient document, written in another culture and handicapped by its uninformed viewpoint, possibly speak to the choices of free-spirited, diverse people today?  Absurd!  How could any one group’s religious worldview be allowed to dictate morality for everyone else?  How could we ever know which perspective is “correct” in a competing marketplace of ideas, especially when all cultures and people are equally worthy of dignity, and each viewpoint, it’s assumed, equally valid?

If there is no morality, there must be no God, at least not a good, or potent, or opinionated one.  Those who cling to their deity but dismiss His jurisdiction in our lives play a dangerous game.  A God who bows to the sensibilities of human foibles isn’t much of a god by any stretch.

By the same token, if there is no God, there can be no right and wrong.  Right and wrong by definition flow from a concept of divinity; to sin is to sin against God.  You might protest that still we can sin against one another, but that’s problematic, as we’ll see.  The existence of good and evil depends on a transcendent, authoritative, and absolute set of values that could only exist if there were a transcendent, authoritative, and absolute Intelligence lurking behind the universe.  If not, the closest we can get to “right” is “right for me,” “right at the moment,” or “right on, man.”

So far, so good — the average American (picture a contestant on The Voice) would concur.  Twitter chirps about finding your own truth, and, admirably, living by it.  Whether truth is self-determined or imposed upon us, it would make sense to live according to it; to disregard truth is to live in delusion, to live a lie.  And that is a wrong worth fighting.

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Photo by MTSOfan on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

But the next logical leap is not so easily embraced — without an objective right, the closest we can get to “right” is sanctified selfishness.  If there is no absolute morality governing the universe, then the best we can do is seek personal fulfillment on our spin around the sun, a cause which tends to put us at odds with others’ ideas of a good time.  And so a husband, bored with marriage, has a fling with his secretary; a wife, finding love with her best friend, realizes that her truth requires a brave step from the closet and a new identity.  It’s complicated, the carnage that results from broken vows and mangled relationships, but it’s the costly logic of our modern morality.

And to a point, it’s a cohesive morality.  The problem with Facebook philosophers is not that they have abandoned ethics.  Your average secular American will gladly throw down for the right of total strangers to enjoy freedom and pursue happiness.  Attitudes that denigrate others (racism, sexism, homophobia) are the ultimate evils, because they impinge on others’ ability to pursue happiness.  The problem is that this modern morality is unmoored, and will logically self-implode.

When autonomous, liberated people, in pursuit of their personal ideal of happiness, and unencumbered by any external requirements for virtue, run smack up against the contrary opinions or desires of others, we reach an impasse.  Who wins?

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Photo by Martin Gommel on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

It’s husband versus wife.

Neighbor versus neighbor.

Citizen versus cop.

Politician versus media.

White versus black.

Pick a headline from today’s news, and it will invariably boil down to conflicting visions, the greed or inconsideration or power-grabbing or self-aggrandizement of happiness-seekers.  But lacking the vocabulary to call it sin, we run into difficulty.  It’s “inappropriate,” “a flaw,” “behaving badly.”  The same behaviors that have been tolerated, even laughingly encouraged, for decades, have been unmasked for what they really are — hurtful, even devastating, selfish, lustful, cruel.

And so we lambast the Matt Lauers and the Bill Cosbys, the rogue policemen and the chanting racists.  We shake our heads, “Thank you, Universe, that I am not as bad as that guy.”  But don’t you see?  We are.

The fact of the matter is, there is most emphatically a deep human consciousness of right and wrong, good and evil.  Rape and murder and manipulation and greed — these things are wicked, and have plagued us time immemorial.  We see the rise of liars to positions of power, see their oppression of the poor and weak, and we know, we know, it’s wrong.  And if we follow the logic, it leads us back, full-circle.

There is a right.  There is a wrong.  It is universal, timeless, and absolute.  It did not evolve in different directions on different continents, or ebb and flow with the centuries.  It must have come from somewhere, from someone.

And if there is such a thing as sin, then it might be smart to figure out what’s in that category.  Not according to whim, not based on my own (“flawed”) logic, but above and beyond me.  And then to track the big ones backwards, find the little pebbles that start the big old rock slide, root those out.  Little ones, acceptable ones, like pride and lust and laziness.  Because nobody sets out to be Harvey Weinstein or for that matter, Idi Amin.

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Photo by zemoko on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC

As Trevin Wax so beautifully put it, “So, the offense of the Christian gospel is twofold. We will seem narrow and strict when we insist on calling out sins. And yet, we will seem too generous when we insist that anyone no matter their past can repent and be restored. Our stark vision of sin is grace to the victim; our call to repentance is grace to the offender.”

Sin, y’all.  Let’s call it what it is.

Photo by Gareth1953 All Right Now on VisualHunt.com / CC BY

First Story

He is holding out on me.

This thought, for a split second, seemed to me utterly improbable.  My friend, the gardener, had walked with me through fields of flower, knelt with me streamside and shown me mysteries of nature, picked with me bushels of fruit.  My trusted friend could not possibly be keeping secrets, could he?  But it soaked so quickly into my mind, my heart, my gut, that even my fingers tingled with the truth of it.  Astonishing.  He is holding out on me.

That first thought multiplied:

He is withholding from me something better than what he gave.  I deserve more.  He is selfishly keeping it out of reach.  He lies… he is a liar.

All that I want, I can have.  I don’t need him.  I can be free.  I can choose.

And so, I did.  I glanced at the one goading me on, saw the encouraging smile, made a choice.  The fruit hung there before me, full ripe.  It was so bursting with juice that the moment I touched it, it fell from the branch and into my hand, spilling a scent like heaven.

Heaven — of course it smelled like heaven; it contained all the secrets of the universe.  I looked around.  There was my husband, watching me with a mixture of puzzled fear and curiosity playing over his features.  Another thought flickered through my mind: I don’t need his approval!  It was exhilarating.  I smiled.

The first bite exploded in my mouth like angel song.  I’ve never tasted anything like it, through all the long years since.  No wonder he wants it all to himself, I thought, triumphant.  I closed my eyes, savored it.  I waited.

I’m not sure what I thought might happen.  Knowledge, he’d said.  Wisdom.  I expected it to flood my mind all at once, I guess — the names of stars, the colors under the sea, the uncharted maps of galaxies.  When nothing happened, I felt the bitter bloom begin.

Many years later, I dipped a smooth white shell into a pond and scooped a clear drink, but the shell’s sharp edge pricked my lip.  That quickly, a drop of blood bloomed into the water like a rose, then disappeared, leaving my drink pink-stained.  At first it seemed so beautiful, then, as the sharp pain registered in my mind, became hateful to me, and I dropped it.  The shell hit a stone and split in two, spilling the tainted water.  Always now I think of both events whenever I think of one:  the quick blossom of beauty, the aftertaste of poison, the vessel broken.

There sat my husband, gaping, looking suddenly ridiculous and exposed.  I knew at once he’d have to join me in this or I’d bear the guilt alone.  Here, I offered, wiping an arm across my lips.  They burned.  I smiled again, but found I couldn’t look at him.  I held the fruit out sideways, chanced a peek.  With a hungry look I hadn’t yet seen on his face, he took it, too.  I know that look well, now, and see it often in the expression of his children, his great-grandchildren.

 As my husband bit into the fruit, I felt the fruit bite back.  Fear — I’d never known it before.  What was there to fear in this garden?  Shame, hot and angry.  Resentment.  He’d tricked me — they’d tricked me.  Both the snake, slithering away now into the weeds, and the gardener with his slippery names.  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?  What knowledge?  All I knew now was confusion.

We hid, Adam and I, and not just that night.  Shame and fear do that to you.  I felt a dread I could not yet name.  The gardener had always been our friend, but my easy comfort in his presence fled, replaced with the knowledge of his incredible power, his otherness.  He may have been holding back, but I had been the one to betray.  And though I’d hoped to acquire goddess stature with my easy bite, I realized now the absolute chasm between us.  How had I believed it possible, to be like God?  We sewed fig leaves into costumes to cover this naked embarrassment.

At night sometimes I lay underneath the stars and search for him, but he is out of reach.  All that, he made.  I remember him laughing, showing me pinpricks of light, naming them for me: planet, comet, moon.  At the time when he explained it all, I understood, but the snake robbed me of all that.  When I try to explain it to the children, they shake their heads, bemused.  I traded understanding for knowledge, and the knowing is bitter and broken.

It has been long years since we were driven east of Eden.  So much that happened we understand only in bits and pieces.  When we first met death, for instance, we couldn’t possibly fathom what it meant.  The absolute shock of it!  Oh, we’d seen animals die, the first time at the hand of the gardener himself.  There was a mystery.  Instead of wrath and fury, there were tears; he killed the beast and sewed of its hide clothes to replace our scanty leaves.  Such sadness filled his eyes as he pressed those first clothes into my hands, such love and grief.  But the death of a human being?

I tasted the gardener’s grief myself when my child died at the hands of his brother.  Finally, I thought, a punishment suitable for what I have done.  Still, I didn’t fully comprehend it.  After all, trees die every year, flowers, shrubs.  And all through the cold winter they lay still.  The first time it happened, I thought they’d gone forever, thought the world would always be so barren and brown.  But spring!  And when Abel’s bones were laid under the ground, I waited for spring to come again, waited for resurrection.  It never came.  Whole centuries passed, and still my boy is gone.  How?  Deep in my soul I know that Cain, too, heard the whisper of the serpent:  you are unloved.  It isn’t fair.  He is holding out on you.

One by one they all fall to the same lie, they all forfeit life.

Before me there were two trees, forbidden Knowledge and beautiful Life.  Dizzy with the power of choice, I turned my back on Life.  But there was planted also that day, however frail, a tiny seed of hope.  Not all my sons will be murdered, murderers.  One day, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh will crush the serpent’s head.  He has chosen me to be the mother of all that lives, and through me someday to restore:  poison to promise, knowledge to joy, death to life.  In spite of everything, he loves me still.

***************

OK, so A, I have been thinking all week about choice/life and the ongoing abortion battles waged in our culture.  I mentioned to my husband that it reminded me of Adam and Eve, the Tree of Life and the choice to rebel.  He pointed me to this incredible sermon by John Piper.  Y’all.

And B, I am participating in a Bible study focused on the drama of Scripture and the meta-narrative of this epic we find ourselves in.  Which got me thinking, way, way back.  What was it like to be Eve?  What did she actually believe?  What do I really believe?

Now Eve’s gotta be the most unreliable narrator of all, right?  I mean, her downfall came because she believed a lie, and if she’s anything like me, the lies she ingested at the beginning stayed with her a long, long time.  Did she ever understand what it was she’d done?  Did she ever see what she traded?  Was she repentant or bull-headed?

So there you go.  A different kind of blog today.  What do you think?  How does the Big Story affect your little one?  Do you hang onto lies?  Are they very different than the ones Eve bought?