Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sin and Sinners

Fourth Sunday in Lent

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23            
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41       

The concept of sin threads its way through the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday; but "sin" and "sinners" are often misunderstood concepts, even in Jesus' day. 

The disciples wondered if it was the blind man who sinned, or his parents' sins, that caused the man to be born blind.  If a person was suffering it was commonly believed that the root cause of it was that the person, or the parents, were sinners. 
The Pharisees believed that not observing the Sabbath (as they thought it should be observed) was a sin; but others felt that Jesus couldn't be a sinner if he was able to heal the blind man.  But the blind man wisely responded to the Pharisees that he did not know if Jesus was a sinner, but he did know that Jesus healed him.  The Pharisees responded that the blind man had been born entirely in sins, and shouldn't be trying to teach the Pharisees anything.  And Jesus told the Pharisees, "If you were blind, you would not have sin.  But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains.

The problem of sin is at the very foundation of Christian theology.  But what exactly is sin?
Sin has usually been thought of as the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.
But why do we sin in the first place?  The first section of the Catechism on Human Nature says that we are part of God's creation, made in the image of God.  That means "we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God."  But from the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices.  It's because we rebel against God, and "we put ourselves in the place of God."
But here's where we start to come up a little short-handed.  We are drawn to look further as to why human beings do this – why do they misuse their freedom and try to put themselves in God's place?  Why do we seek our own will instead of God's will?  Is it because our nature is "sinful, wicked and unclean"?  But how can this be, if we're created in the image of God?
Perhaps we need a slightly different view of what sin actually is.  Let's start with a look at the will of God.  We usually view the will of God as His wanting us to follow His commandments.  A sin is when someone violates God's law, and that person usually therefore in need of correction, sometimes in the form of a punishment.  This is the Law and Order perspective.
But what if the will of God is something different?  What if the will of God has more to do with His desire that we become complete human beings so that we can know, love and serve Him in our own unique way?  That is, our earthly human side and our spiritual being side are fully united in His love?  A Human Being par excellence.  This is the Unity perspective.
But what's the problem?  The problem is that the Human side (flesh and ego) doesn't always work well with the Being side (spirit and soul).  The Human side brings with it some deep instinctive survival needs, along with a brain that generates thoughts based on fear, greed, and a need for power which sometimes overwhelms the soul.  Without discipline, understanding, and guidance in life, a dysfunctional ego develops that shapes a life with a will of its own.  This is the concept of "original sin."  It endangers us all, and can appear in collective form in small groups, corporations, and nations.

The original definition of sin meant someone who is "missing the mark."  Yes, the result may be that the person doesn't follow the laws of God, but the proximate cause is an underlying disconnect between body and soul that needs healing, not punishment.  Sinners were missing the mark because they didn't integrate body and soul – not just because they violated God's laws, but because they missed God's purpose for themselves.  To be in a state of sin is to not understand our overall personal purpose in life; to not know that we're all interconnected with each other, with nature, and with God; to lack awareness to the world and people around us; to fail to discover who we really are, and how we can live life for God to the fullest.
Certainly, sinful acts can hurt others and ourselves, and these need special attention and remedy.  This is where forgiveness, restitution, amends, and restoration come into play.  But the more we can reduce the sinful state of a person, the fewer sinful acts will occur.  And this begins with healing through guidance, counseling, awareness training, and love – not punishment and condemnation.
When we pray, "Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner," we are asking for Jesus' intervention in our lives to reunite body and soul in harmony with God's love.  We are asking for God' grace in our lives, to open our eyes like Jesus did for the blind man, so that we too, can see the truth of His love for us and for each other.  As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the [spiritually] dead, and Christ will shine on you!"  (Ephesians 5) 
We are not sinners and in need of forgiveness; we are sinners and in need of healing, and Jesus' life provides the basis for this healing.  "He restores my soul," says Psalm 23, "He leads me in right paths for His Name's sake." 

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