In the orthodox world of my childhood, Sin was a big deal. Not just in the sense of it involving some act of wrongdoing, but in its complexity. In Hebrew, the word for sin (“Chata”) is only one of many. There is also “pasha,” or trespass, which means a sin committed out of willful rebelliousness. Then there is “aveira,” which means transgression. And we can’t forget “avone,” or iniquity, which refers to the sin committed out of moral failing.
The upshot is that it’s never just “sin.” It’s the many ways in which we break our connections to the Holy One who created us in love. And the sorrow of it is that most of the time we’re so busy with worldly things that we don’t even know that those connections have been broken or what we’re missing anymore.
I walk several miles a day. Some of those miles are with the company of friends. Some are in the company of just God and an occasional flock of wintering bluebirds. Since I’ve been sick this past year, I’ve logged more miles than I can count. It’s been the only thing that has ameliorated a misery so deep and confusing that I thank God in tears that I can put on my sneakers, zip up my jacket, and get myself out the door.
As I walk and talk out loud to Him, I often imagine the Garden of Eden, how Adam and Eve used to walk with Him talking, in the moment, held aloft in His peace and protection…until they (and by proxy, we) chose to walk alone…and now we are in rebellion, angry, willful, ignorant, ever seeking that which we can no longer see.
Four Humors of Fallen Man
Over the hundreds of miles walked in conversation with God this past year, I’ve been surprised to find myself not only in a state of need and urgency (all expectable given my circumstances). But I’ve been in a state of deep repentance. I thought I had said the sinner’s prayer, done my repenting for the great gaffes of my life and conducted those daily moral inventories as I went along. Yet, as I walked aimlessly through our mountainside neighborhood, I found my life flashing before my eyes—and not in a happy way. I saw the big, catastrophic sins as well as the smallest, most forgettable sins: pushing another 8 year old girl who was hogging the water fountain, disrespecting a parent or grandparent, breaking someone’s heart, rushing into trouble of so many kinds it boggled my mind.
I found myself stunned. I had been given everything, literally everything: good parents, a good home, a moral and upright community, more love than I knew how to receive, a good, religious education, food, a comfortable bed. Yet, it wasn’t enough for me and I chose to do things that were foolish beyond words. How did that happen???
In my experience this last year, I began to watch my own quiet thinking and discover the ruses sin uses to engage, deceive, and snare us. It is rarely, if ever, direct. These are the methods I have noticed.
Our very DNA is broken. Adam’s sin (or choice) changed the very nature, the core helix of our existence. And not just us. It changed everything. It depixilated the extant universe. We no longer heard God’s voice, felt His loving presence next to us. Animals that once did rest together were tearing at each others’ throats. The further we get from the point of impact, the more entropy gets built into our cells, the less we remember of how it was and how it was meant to be, the less we are able to recognize our very own corruption. A fish doesn’t know he’s in water until he’s taken out of it. We can’t see our sin, because we’re swimming in it.
Sin fouls up the integrity of everything that is experienced by every sensory apparatus. We see through a glass darkly…we can’t see the truth easily or readily about anything. We always have to reference God’s word.
We in the Western world tend to think of ourselves as autonomous and distinct. We speak of boundaries and separation issues as if we were thoroughly independent of one another and it was only our pathologies that enmeshed us. However, the truth is quite the opposite. We are connected no matter what we think and it is usually our sense of isolation and separateness that causes the trouble. Some part of me always touches some part of you. As a result, sin, like goodness, is always contagious…when you hang around with people who sin, eventually you do. It seems to be as inevitable as natural law. Most of the bad things I did (by commission or omission) were the result of seeking approval, belonging or association with people who were doing those things already. I remember my parents warning me about “hanging around with that one” but I was not smart enough to listen.
Sin is easily missed because it is sneaky, ordinary, and unconscious, like addiction. Our own sins, moreover, are so common that we give them names like “white lies” to reflect how unimportant and tame they are. But in reviewing my life this year, what I found out is that none of them are tame or unimportant. Rolling my eyes at someone as she tried to help me or teach me was as awful and disrespectful as cursing outright. There are no good ways to hurt someone. And there are no unimportant ways to connect with God. By sinning, we miss opportunities to walk with Him, we repeatedly leave Eden behind.
Another “ordinary” or easily dismissed form of this occurred the other day when I was walking, of course. One of the biggest concerns and frustrations for me in being sick has been that I haven’t been able to see my 96 year old father because I couldn’t travel. I was telling God that I would wait for his sign to book a flight or plan a long car trip. And as soon as I did that, internally and almost imperceptibly, I amended that promise with, “If I don’t hear from you by June…” I had given God a deadline! I wouldn’t have dared do that with my conscious mind, but my unconscious mind went right ahead. This is where ordinary meets corruption.
Cloaked in Righteousness or Thank God I’m Not A Pharisee…
We are asked to be humble and to walk in righteousness, to be kind, merciful, and strong in the Lord…not to see ourselves as righteous or to lord it over others. But once you get into a thinking of works, it’s a very slippery slope. It can happen when you’re in the supermarket and you look askance at a stranger’s cart full of sugary cereals, or when you pass by a beggar and congratulate yourself for not winding up in drug treatment or jail or homeless. It’s so easy to miss the judgment behind these moments, but it’s there. We should have gratitude and mercy. But, congratulations are way out of order because as Paul reminds us so often, plenty of things can separate us from God, but nothing can separate Him from us. Not even our sins. We are saved because He is righteous, not because we are.