I don’t like the word sin.
When I found out my baby’s heart wasn’t beating the doctor came back into the room to a tearful distraught woman, he tried to tell me about the next steps and my options. He finished and sighed a deep sigh and said, “can I pray for you?” Full of tears and snot, with a crackly voice, I said, “Yes Please.”
It was the sweetest gesture of comfort he could offer, and it was so precious.
He prayed. I remember a few things in his prayer, how this was not the way God intended things, but because of “sin” and living in a “fallen” world we, therefore, have to experience such things.
Growing up a pastor’s kid (pk) and in the Charismatic Evangelical world, we had our list of things that were “sin”. You know, the things good Christian pk girls couldn’t do. And if anyone else did them, we judged them and condemned them to hell. We had scales, you know the big sins like listed in the 10 commandments and the little sins. And we were all sinners and because we are so wretched, we needed someone to take all these horrible things we humans do and pay the ultimate price for them, right? A sacrifice to “pay” for our lies, our pride, our fortification, our hate, our drinking alcohol, our stealing, our disobeying our parents, and the list goes on.
This theology is central to evangelicalism, and I started wrestling with the concept as a little girl in 5th grade. I remember being in Kids Church and someone talking about our sin, how Jesus died for us and if he had not died “you would have to DIE!” This concept as a 5th-grade little girl did not make sense to me. It is so violent, gruesome, and weird.
I couldn’t accept this explanation. The atonement theology of a God that needed a payment and sacrifice has been the foundation of most Christian thought for years, yet I have some questions about this theology.
I don’t like the word “sin”, I don’t like it because it has been misused and overused to the point that we have distorted and warped the meaning to fit so many agendas that I don’t know if we even understand the word anymore.
I don’t like the word because we use it in so many twisted ways. Like when a baby dies, we use the explanation, it is because of the “sin” that “Eve” brought into the world. Or if there is a behavior, we don’t approve of we label it sin. Or if we lie it is “sin”, or if we kill someone it is also “sin.” The sins of humanity have changed over time, things that were once not acceptable are now, and we will continue to evolve as we are supposed to.
Language is limited. If I say the word “sin” what picture comes to your head? What feelings does it arouse? If I say the words, “I am the bread of life.” What pictures come into your mind? Did you know that in some cultures this phrase would not make sense because bread is not their staple? For example, in Latin American countries the phrase that might portray the message of this scripture might be, “I am the tortilla of life.” Did you know when translating the Bible for the people of Papa New Guinea, it was translated “I am the sweet potato of life”? Language is limited. Our culture and the matrix we view life through dictate meaning, create pictures, and form understanding.
Around 35AD a new evolving wave of spirituality called The Way, becomes a threat to the Jewish Sanhedrin. One Pharisee named Saul devoted his life to keeping the Jewish law perfectly. He sets out with others to purge this blasphemous new sect. The teachings of The Way if spread widely would put these Jewish Pharisees and hundreds of others out of jobs. The temple system was being threatened, and money changers, livestock owners, breeders, and sellers, would no longer be needed. And their sacred way of life, their understanding of God, their religious laws, and their culture was on the line. Saul became involved in the killing of those that pledged their allegiance to this new religion or sect. How many people did he kill? How many innocent people’s faces did he see at night as he slept? Was he tormented by his actions, or did he feel he was doing God’s work, killing for God, and felt justified and satisfied?
The story is told that this man Saul, was stopped in his tracks and came face to face with “The Light” or a light, and ultimately, he becomes a changed man, enlightened to his own “ways” and his name was changed to Paul. Is it possible that what this man’s soul needed was atonement? Is it possible that there were not enough rams, goats, and lambs, available to sacrifice to rid him of the guilt he carried for the lives he had taken? The Way taught that you did not need to sacrifice animals anymore! It taught that this was not what God wanted from us! It taught that your “sins” were forgiven. It did away with the middleman, it did away with payment for sins, sacrificial systems, and penance.
Wouldn’t “atonement” be the best news (gospel) to a murderer? Wouldn’t you want to share your good news with others?
This is what good news is to me, I was fearfully and wonderfully made. I was knit together in my mother’s womb. There are special ingredients that were placed inside my bones, that are supremely unique to me. They are a combination of my ancestral line, mixed with my purpose for this moment in the world. Knowing my worth and who I am is part of my spiritual quest to become fully alive and pursue oneness with the Spirit of God, whom IS already present inside of me.
This good news has led me to believe that the journey of life is to surrender to the natural laws of the universe. Not to fight against them. Anytime we get out of alignment or “miss the path” or maybe “miss the mark” (the definitions of the word sin). We must come back to center or realign, or we will suffer.
We must surrender to the vastness of our unknowing, to learn silence in the face of things that do not have explanations, to help others find their way back to their path, their purpose, and their contribution to their community (a.k.a. their World). To pursue becoming our best selves, full of patience and kindness, not envious or boastful. Not proud and not eager to dishonor others, not self-seeking, or easily angered. To learn how to keep no records of wrongs or to delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. To learn to be the person that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. This would look like very good news to me.
Rich Mullins was the writer of the iconic song “Our God is an Awesome God” maybe one of the most sung songs in history. He struggled with alcoholism until the day he died in a car accident. In the movie “Raggamuffin” based on his life, Mullins says over and over, “I think the purpose of life is to learn to accept the love of God.” Mullins struggled to believe he was loved because his theology led him to believe that his behavior/sin (his humanness) and lack of perfection determined if he was loved or not. What if we are just fully accepted and coming back to center is just what is best for us to live a healthy life, not what determines our acceptance or if we are worthy of love?
I think that when we accept ourselves, as the beautiful creation that we are, when we accept our weaknesses, and learn to live them out beautifully, when we realize we are complex beings with both light and dark in us, and we were made this way on purpose, we can relax.
We can learn about the beauty of the joy that comes after the darkest nights, the deep love that comes out of pain, we can see how all things are needed and make the world go round. And we can begin to understand how we are the vessels that bring heaven to earth. We are the conduits that allow “Your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Language limits us. I want to give you some new language, because I needed new language. If I did not find new lenses and new perspectives to understand the Spirit of God and scripture, I would have had to leave “Western Christianity.” The language hindered my growth and what I felt was my purpose in this world. If you need some new language, you are in good company, I am with you on the journey of discovery and the pursuit of wholeness and peace.