I bought Chris Hedges' (I) Don't Believe (in) Atheists yesterday and spent most of yesterday reading through it. I also bought Bart Ehrman's God's Problem (I admit, most just to yell at him). Comments and reviews on both to come in time.
Something in the Atheists book sparked a rather interesting realization though. Hedges writes that we do not need to afraid of anyone who does or does not believe in God. We should, however, be afraid of anyone who does not believe in sin. The concept of sin, Hedges writes, is the recognition that we human beings can never be omnipotent.
Wow, I thought, and read it aloud to a friend. He looked at me rather puzzled and said, "That doesn't make any sense at all." After a few moments of debating back and forth on why that didn't make sense to him, I finally asked, "What is sin to you?"
"It's when you do something wrong."
Well no wonder. I explained where Hedges was coming from, that one of the biblical views of sin is not the act of doing something wrong, but a state of imperfect being. It wasn't small-s sin, that you list during your weekly confession, tallying up as either venial or mortal, or even take up to the altar call and swear you'll never do that again lest you make Jesus cry. We're talking about big-s Sin, the stalking monster, the disease that gets within in or is within us and in the end makes us do what we do not want to do and not do what we should do.
"Oh," he replied. "Now that makes sense."
We are both christians, mind you. You'd think that we'd have the same basic understanding of what sin is. And yet. It never ceases to amaze me to discover how often we human beings who speak the same language actually translate our words with different meanings.
And what a difference this makes! Sin as something external that you do vs. Sin as something that lives within your soul. Sin as a medium in which we live, breath, think, love, laugh and be human, vs. something that we commit.
Sin as something that we can wrestle to the ground with Jesus as our tag-team partner. Sin as the acts we commit, the vile thoughts we think, the decisions we make. And if we can do right,well so can anyone else.
Sin as the inner unconscious mystery that drives us to do the act, think the thought, make the choice, the boiling force inside us that's as fundamental to our nature as our taste in lovers that makes us choose one woman over another, without really understanding why. Something that, despite our best intentions, will usually lead us to hell if we refuse to look at it fully and claim it as our own. And which will lead us there even when we do.
That's the Sin that makes grace make sense to me, that underneath our human veneer lies a beast, and every hair on our heads is loved anyway despite this, even when and especially when we fall.
So, I ask you: What is Sin? Try not to use the words you grew up with. Try not to rely on words that are comfortable. Take your best shot. No wrong answers.