Because We’re Human
I don't think much about the concept of sin anymore, so I was intrigued when Father Gary Wilde brought it up in his column in this space last week. What made the timing particularly odd was that the topic had come up at a gathering a couple of days before in my own congregation.
As a minister, I am blessed to sit with a number of people in a number of groups as they explore theological, philosophical, and life questions together. Since ours is a creedless faith tradition requiring no particular statement of religious belief, it is not unusual to have a diversity of opinions, impressions, and ways of thinking represented in any of our gatherings.
At a recent evening meeting at church, one of our groups began talking about the concept of sin, and it quickly became obvious that there were many viewpoints around our small circle. Some people seemed to resonate easily with a definition of sin as something like stepping off the path or doing something that hurts someone else unnecessarily or acting in a way that you know in your heart isn’t right. It’s easy for those of us who have sometimes fallen short of the mark to think of that sort of behavior as sin.
There were others of us, though, who thought the word ‘sin’ outmoded and consequently saw no importance in talking about it in the first place. After all, they asked, hadn’t many of our Unitarian forebears effectively excised that word from their vocabulary over a century ago?
But even as we wanted to sidestep such an antiquated and orthodox-sounding concept and to push away the question by simply not talking about it, it seemed we were on the same page when we struggled with our own questionable behaviors. The one thing that became clear among us is that the notion of sin is not at all about hurting God, whatever one thinks God is or isn’t. Sin is about hurting each other and, therefore, ultimately about hurting ourselves.
In his column, Father Gary posed a good question: “Why do we so often pull the wrong way when we’re hurting?”
Maybe the answer is, “Because we’re human.” When others hurt us, we humans tend to do as other animals do: we follow our biologically preprogrammed fight-or-flight directives and are drawn in one of two directions: either striking back at the perpetrator with words or actions, or sulking off to lick our wounds.
When the situation is reversed and we hurt others, we can turn those fight-or-flight responses inward, either beating ourselves up internally, or trying to deny there was ever a problem.
Returning to oneself after bad behavior – whether one’s own or someone else’s – is an important piece of the struggle to regain some balance, which would be what some might call ‘salvation.’
Author, theologian, and seminary president Rebecca Parker says that a true vision of salvation isn’t about a heavenly reward in the sweet by-and-by, but about being fully alive in the here-and-now with a restored capacity to engage life. This sort of salvation is never simply a personal accomplishment alone, but is to be found together in human communities where goodness, truth, and beauty are celebrated, and where sin, evil, and injustice are resisted.
I hope to see you in one of those communities.