What is sin? And how does God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit play into sin and evil? These are questions circulating in my mind and heart. I’ve often wondered about sin and evil. People speak of the devil and hell and that just never resonated to me. How can a loving God, creator of all, coexist with Hell? That never made sense to me. But what about sin?
Much of my life revolved around right, wrong, good, and bad. This is how I saw the world. I placed things into one category or the other, and I was miserable. The driver of my life was to work towards good and right and avoid, as much as possible, bad and wrong. Everything had a polarity to it and everything was about earning, achieving, striving, longing. This model always left me lacking. I could never seem to be good enough or the feeling of achieving never lasted. I always felt empty.
It was in this emptiness that I learned of another model or way of being. What if I gave up the good/ bad/ right/ wrong lens for helpful or not helpful? This was helpful! Finally, I moved out of a place of judgement of myself and others. As much as I could I viewed things as helpful or not helpful in learning and growing. I felt this gave me a stronger sense of purpose and fulfillment in my life. I was not longer constantly trying to measure up and achieve. My life was not about learning and growth. This was a new way of being that lit me up.
So, back to sin. In the old way of living my life sin was on the negative side of the polarity– it was on the bad and wrong side. To me, sin was doing something bad and wrong. If this occurred, I judged myself and often shamed myself in the process. I found myself constantly sinning and thus, shaming and beating myself up. This was a very harsh way to be with myself and didn’t work all that well. Because here is the thing¬– all that making myself wrong just made me sin more. The harder I was on myself the worse I showed up. I was caught in a very negative cycle.
I’m going to go out on a limb and share my beliefs here, I think humanity also got caught in this punishment cycle. Man sinned, God punished, and then man sinned even more. God’s punishment did not seem to alleviate sin. And humanity was not growing. We needed a new way of being and relating with God, and thus Jesus. Jesus’s life and death gave us a new model for being with others, ourselves, and God. This model was not based on right and wrong, but on love.
In this new model I see sin not as being bad, but as missing the mark. The Hebrew Bible uses words for taboo behavior like awon, crookedness; chethah, the antisocial breaking of boundaries of conduct; and peshah, rebellion against God. The New Testament Greek translates all these words as hamartia, “missing the mark,” like an archer who is trying to hit the bullseye but misses. This is how I view sin; it is missing the mark of God and God’s path. We will occasionally miss the mark and we can get back on track through forgiveness or compassionate self-forgiveness.
I just finished reading Exodus 32 and Leviticus 10, 16, 19, and 23 as outlined in James Kugel’s How to Read the Bible. What stood out to me was Exodus 32: 1-6. Moses was taking a long time to come down from Mt. Sinai and many assumed he was dead. The people then demanded direction from his brother Aaron. He met their request for direction by taking all their gold and silver and turning it into a Golden Calf to which they could worship. Here’s the rub, they had just received the Ten Commandments and immediately did what they were forbidden from doing. How often does this happen? How often do we declare something and then immediately go back on our word? I think all the time!
To me, we are going to miss the mark. We are going to promise ourselves we are going to eat less sugar and then that donut just gets the better of us. Or we promise we are going to have new eyes for our partner and then there we are, showing up as the worst version of ourselves. We all have a bit of Aaron in us.
So, what do we do about it? I think, we course correct. We get back on the path, the horse, or the wagon. The point is not to never fall or fail or sin. The point is that we will do it over and over again, but can we get back up? Can we forgive and keep going? This has become my relationship with sin. I don’t love my neighbor as myself, I judge, I don’t always do what I say I am going to do¬– I sin. So, every morning I ask for forgiveness of my sins and I forgive myself for missing the mark. In this I dust myself off and get back out there. Acceptance of myself as a sinner, as failing, as making mistakes is what allows me to move closer to the person I want to be more of the time. This is what is more helpful than beating myself up all of the time.
I am learning to fail greatly. I’m getting better at apologizing and doing it more often, quicker, and with more heart. The more I do it, the better I get at it. And, this is becoming one of the things I most admire in others– the ability to take responsibility, course correct, and move on. I know I’m going to mess up a lot. I’m going to have a ton of Golden Calves in my life. And I can course correct, learn, and grow. As I do I will move closer and closer to the mark– living my life as Jesus modeled, with love, forgiveness, and service.