In my lifetime I have sat through enough church harangues about thoughts and actions which have been labeled as sinful to occupy decades of therapy. Alongside the heinous sin of a few experiments smoking, the occasional swear word escaping my lips, and the scandalous watching of television on a Sunday (not to mention the occasional visit to the shops), if some are to be believed, my annual Cup Day flutter, and the occasional beer condemn me to an uncomfortably warm eternity. In a world where entire nations and races of people are dehumanized, if not destroyed because of their identity, such trivialities seem to be given disproportionate attention in the mind of God. Sin has a bad reputation, but it is not alone.
We could place other concepts in the christian understanding of the world in the same basket: salvation, redemption, obedience, and discipline, to name but a few. Many of these concepts are foundational to the christian faith, but the ways in which they have been taught, and to some degree mutilated over the past century has left them the subject of much scorn and contempt. Born largely of the institutional church’s desire to control, both on an individual and societal level, these concepts have become pawns in a political battle, such that they are largely disregarded if not despised by the wider community, with many inside the church treating them with equal disdain. But we need to be careful that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water, dismissing the concepts altogether because the interpretation we have received does not represent the substance of the call.
Part of the problem stems from a disembodied approach to spirituality, in which the only things of value are those associated with angels, harps and clouds, and nothing to do with life on earth can be of any good. Indeed, at its extreme, pleasure of any form is evil, and those who suffer on this earth do so because God ordained it.
Central to the prayer Jesus taught us is the request “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. It points to a spirituality in which heaven and earth are bound together in purpose: life-giving and life-affirming at the heart. As the ways of God in the world are to reflect the ultimate outcome in heaven, so any christian expression of theology must make a difference in the here-and-now, even if as a portent. Sin, in this light, is anything which is life-destroying – both at a personal and communal level, not merely something which appears personally pleasurable and little more.
God knows we need people committed to renouncing the real sins of our day, and offering a godly alternative, both in deed and in word.
August 29, 2004