Saturday, August 16, 2008

How Do We Deal with the Sin in Others?


Did you read that word in the title without blinking? Or did it make you angry or uncomfortable? When you hear the word 'sin', do you think of Reverend Lovejoy (my favourite quote of his) saying,

"Oh just about everything is a sin, have you ever sat down and read this thing [the Bible]? Technically, we're not allowed to go to the bathroom."

I hope as I write this, you don't think of me as one of those tubthumping curmudgeons who don't believe in dancing, drinking or any form of pleasure. It's funny that for the last couple of years, it's only been my "christian" contacts who think I'm harsh and judgmental. (yes they've called me judgmental). My gay friends, my friends who smoke, the other parents in the kids' tennis club, my Catholic friends, the disabled people I worked with last week, the affluent managers I coach sometimes, the longterm unemployed with no self-esteem ... all the people that you'd imagine a fundamentalist christian would offend and judge ... they call me warm and accepting ... maybe I've become only judgmental about christians ... hmm ... :)

Anyway, it was probably sin causing me to write the paragraph above. Pride! Oh dear ... I should get back to whatever it was I was actually going to write about...

A question that has been bothering me for a few years now, percolating in the depths of my brain, was fully formed in my mind just an hour ago, it came to me with clarity: "How do I deal with sin in others?"

See I'm pretty good at knowing how to deal with it in me: I either take steps to uproot and destroy it ... or I ignore it and hope it'll go away but secretly like it and hope God will do something about it without me trying. :)

Because of that second option, to even think about other people's sin begins to sound like hypocrisy and judgmentalism to me.

But I still have to deal with it because let's face it, we're all confronted with other people's sin all the time. My youngest son asks me "Dad why did they do that?" after the car he and his Mum are travelling in gets hit with an egg ... and hit so hard that the egg (hitting the driver's window at an angle) smashes through the seal and splashes across the inside of the glass all the way back to the windscreen!

My response to him: "It's good that you don't know why, son. I hope you never understand why people would do a thing like that. It's basically just sin."

Sin can be defined as ignoring God's expectations and, yes, rules. It can also be defined as doing something that gratifies the "sinner" at the expense of others (including God). Both work for me.

And I've been stewing over what is the disciple-of-Jesus' response to sin in 21st Century postmodern enlightened Australia? And in emerging non-traditional non-institutional church where you have to figure it out for yourself instead of just doing whatever the Holy Man (ie., ordained minister/priest/pastor) says?

There's an emerging orthodoxy within christian circles that says "Well you can't challenge anyone on anything. Judging people is the ultimate unforgiveable sin". This is probably an understandable reaction to the bible-bashing or shunning of people like my gay friends, my affluent friends, my divorced friends, my longterm unemployed friends ("they're just slothful!") by Big C Church in the past.

In the end, all I have that even has a hope of objectivity for me to build my life on is the written word of the Bible. If the Bible is not an authoritative source of direction and wisdom for you, I don't judge you. I do suggest that the things I write here will probably not resonate with you. If it is, then I hope together we can explore some "answers" to the question I started with, some directions ...

It's 4 am here and I've already typed for 30 minutes. I can feel sleep overtaking me so I'll just make a start on the next part of my thoughts on this topic...

When christians are looking for stark definitions and commentary on sin, they turn to the writings of Paul. Paul is very blunt about many things, particularly things he believes are just not ok. Paul's "conservative".

When christians are trying to make the point that we should be permissive and inclusive, they turn to the figure of Jesus and say "He hung out with drunks and prostititutes and swindlers; he didn't judge people; etc etc".

See, that's interesting to me. The outcasts, the "reprobates", the every-day people - yeah, they all felt very comfortable with Jesus ... well most of the time. There are some exceptions.

It was mostly the people with power who had a problem with Him, yes. But there were also times when the "crowds" - as in middle and working class people with a few criminals thrown in there too - got sick of Him or offended by Him and they rejected Him too...

And He didn't judge? Hmmm. Jesus was much firmer on the topic of sin than even the Jewish Law. (And this is just my limited understanding, my Jewish friends may be able to show me that he was actually interpreting Jewish Law here). He said, (I paraphrase)

  • "It's not just what you do, it's why you do it."
  • "You can do all the right things for the wrong reasons and still wind up on God's scrap-heap."
  • "No one can fault the things you do, but the motivations of your heart and the burning selfishness in your mind, these negate your 'righteous' behaviour."
  • "You're full of it. You're a murderer, you're a liar, you're a hypocrite."
[see Matthew 5:20-30; 6:1-8; Luke 11:39-54; John 8:42-47 just for starters]

So for now, I just want to flag the tendency of the New Testament writers to not go soft on sin, but to actually call it for what it is. In terms of dealing with it, well, God willing, I'll explore that with you in another post ... or in the comments that follow this one...

Question: Does noting the sin in other people mean that we don't love them? (ie., Is it a betrayal of the principles of love and grace?)