Sin and repentence are two Christian concepts that I used to have an issue with. I was taught that sin was both like a cancer in my soul and that sinner was my identity. I used to actually believe that when I sinned god would leave me and stay away from me and my life until I repented. I used to believe that the Devil wanted me to sin and was working fulltime himself plus that he had set some of his most trusted minions to create situations for me to fail in, to fall into sin. I felt helpless and hopeless against this overwhelming evil power and holiness that imagined sinless state completely out of my reach. Oh I did believe that god was stronger than the Devil and I did believe that Jesus somehow had taken away my sin, but the problem was that I kept doing it, sinning that is, so it seems that no matter what I was loosing the battle. This view of sin led me to hide my sin deep in a closet and pretend that I was a good Christian while trying to hide my shame from others.
After much reflection and reading the scripture, I realise that not only is this not an image of sin that the scriptures give us it also did much more damage to me than the sin itself. Especially the shame which I have come to realise is the true cancer.
The most common word for sin in the Christian canon is the greek word hamartia which means ”to miss the mark” (there are about 20 more words in the scriptures that means a lot of different things) and it is in this word that I found the cure, or the shift in perspective on sin.
What is the mark? What is it that we aim for? Well the mark is holiness or to use a more common word wholeness. The mark is unity with the divine, to become whole rather than to be separate. Holines in it self means to be set apart and most often we focus on what we are set apart from rather than what we are set apart to. To be holy is to cleave to god, to be dedicated or united with the divine. This is the aim, this is the mark that we so often miss.
So how does one do this? How are we to be one with the divine. Well here comes the good news. The scriptures teach us that we are created in the likeness of the divine, that nothing can in fact separate us from the divine source of love and that we are children of the most high. This means that wholeness is not something we must work hard to achieve but rather is something that is ours, it is our birthright, our destination and it is who we are!
Hear this: your sin is not who you are!
You are loved beyond measure by the divine who is love. Unity with god is not something we have to work at but something we instead have to relax into. The road to wholeness comes by becoming who we truly are not through hard work but through radical acceptance and unconditional divine love. This is what is in christian lingo called grace. The gift of love.
Now that might sount like a whole load of hippie dippy ballony and not at all helpful to find wholeness and unity with god. But it is truly where it starts. You can only experience transformation and change of what you first accept. Or as they say ”what you resist, persists.”
Now the second clue how to stop missing the mark is given by Jesus example. In one of the accounts of Jesus, he is reported to say that ”I only say what I hear the father say, I only do what I see the father do.”
This is what we in the church call being led by the spirit or to walk in the spirit. In each moment there is a greater good, what in process thought is called the initial aim. In church it is called the will of god. When we relax and learn how to separate the whisper of the divine from the voice of our ego (or when we learn to recognise the voice of the shepherd) we can start discerning the soft call of love in each moment and follow it. When we act in accordance with divine love in every moment we will no longer miss the mark. In this light sin is simply a measure by which we know how far we are from walking like Jesus, being Jesus in our context and perhaps not something we should beat ourselves up for.
I practice prayer to learn to listen to that still voice and I aim to follow as closely as I possibly can, but I still miss the mark from time to time. I sin, and every time I do, I celebrate. Because when I recognise I have missed the mark, I have also identified what was the divine will and this is no small thing. When I encounter sin in my life, I know I am stalking the true gold, the path of love. This is where repentance comes in (GR. metanoia) Metanoia literally means to turn around, which means that we reconsider our current course of action and consider a new one. Sin (missing the mark) is the warning flag that tells me I have veered of course. It is not a cancer, it is not my nature it is my alarm clock, my wake up call, the voice of god showing me where I missed the mark and together with me (because nothing can separate me from the love of god) gently recalibrates my aim.
So I used to have a problem talking about sin in general and my sin in particular, now I realise that coming out of the closet and radically accepting myself just as I am; Shedding shame and all forms of hiding; Embracing transparancy and talking about my shortcomings and where I am really at enables me to accept myself and relax into the loving arms of the divine, into my true nature as an image bearer of love and a beloved child of the most high; To listen to the softer whisper of spirit and to walk true.