I’ll be writing a lot about sin this week. Sin is a word that makes many of us cringe, but it’s one that I believe we’ve greatly misunderstood and holds a key to our liberation as humans.
I love divine paradoxes. Here’s my favorite at the moment…
We are all simultaneously 100% sinner and 100% saint 100% of the time.
This was one of the main theological tenets of Martin Luther and one of the main reasons that I call myself a Lutheran today.
Okay, let me start with the first half of this paradox.
We are all sinners
It’s easy to see the human race as divided — sinners on one hand and non-sinners on the other…
The sinners are those who do moralistically bad things like cussing, lying, killing, stealing, adultering, having vanity plates, and other nefarious deeds.
And then, on the other side of the aisle of humanity, we have the ‘good’ people. These folks have their moralistic house in order and live nice, clean lives.
It’s not true.
We’re all sinners.
(But maybe not in the way you think.)
As I wrote yesterday, the best descriptions of sin I’ve come across are these…
- The human propensity to ‘turn in on ourselves’. You know, those times when you mentally/spiritually separate from and otherize people. When you do things that are self-serving and short-sided. Or when you listen to the internal accuser and begin the self-destruction process. Been there? Yep, me too.
- The human propensity to fu… em… muck things up. This proceeds from the first definition because when we turn in on ourselves, we project that stuff on the world around us. We lie, deceive, murder, objectify, listen to U2, etc.
Here’s the deal. The notion of sin hurts (and becomes useless) when we think only some of us do it.
Paul expressed this paradox as clearly as any…
“So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:14–15)
We all turn in on ourselves and we all muck things up — to some degree. I’m not blaming, I’m just saying. This is not necessarily to make you feel bad (because heaven forbid that we Americans actually ‘feel bad’) but to de-center you and possibly open you up to the fellow sinners that occupy this world with you.
If you see sin, not so much as a moralistic checklist, but rather, as a natural mental/spiritual disorder that every single one of us was born with, a lot of interesting things happen…
First of all, empathy comes way easier. Suddenly, the playing field is leveled. From the guy over there living with his wife and kids in a $2 million house to the kid knocking off 7–11’s on the other side of town, I know they’re both installed with the propensity to — gulp — sin. One is just more blatant and externally directed with his sin (and has been born/put into an environment that makes it so) than the other.
Secondly, it keeps the anxiety down. When I turn in on myself and/or muck things up, I don’t see it as something I should have ‘fixed’ long ago or need to ‘fix’ in the future (I don’t think any human — including Jesus — has freed themselves from sin). I see it for what it is and I open myself up to the grace of God, myself, and my fellow humans to forgive me for my nonsense and I pray that I learn and grow from the experience.
Which leads me to my second point…
We are all saints
We can’t forget this second half. As much as we have the propensity to turn in on ourselves and muck things up — with grace, we can be healed, redeemed, forgiven, and we can resurrect into new life in light of our transgressions.
Some of the most outwardly expressed sinners have the warmest of hearts. Just as much as I’m selfish, arrogant, judgmental, and self-destructive — I’m also a pretty caring person with a propensity to love with a full heart.
It’s when I stop seeing sin as a ‘problem to fix’ and rather a ‘condition to acknowledge (in both myself and others)’ that I express the saintly part of me more.
And so, this is the paradox we humans live in… We are both sinner and saint, all the time.
May this not bring you guilt and condemnation, but rather forgiveness and mercy on yourself and your fellow humans.