Reflections on sin

TO BE HONEST, SOMETIMES WHEN I hear the word “sin” I flinch. You’d think I’d get used to it after nearly 45 years of following Jesus. Some might suggest my response is evidence of … well, uh, my sinfulness, and they could be right. Still, when I say the word out loud, I often detect a faint inner eye-roll in hearers — or worse, they shut down, they totally disengage — and I wonder if the word is doing more harm than good.

This is not to suggest that what the word sin means is obsolete. Sometimes sin is described as “missing the mark,” resulting in a (dirty) laundry list of moral failings detailing how we mess up. Luther said sin is man bent in upon himself. We could spell it “sIn” — highlighting that big self­ish, egotistical “I” in the middle. When asked to write an essay about “What’s wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton’s response was the short­est and most to the point: “Dear Sirs: I am.” We all are.

But today I wonder if it might be helpful to think of sin as brokenness. People are broken. Hearts are bro­ken; hopes and dreams are shattered. And what’s more, we break things. We break promises, we break trust, we break faith. As Bob Dylan’s gravelly voice intoned, “Ain’t no use jivin’/ ain’t no use jokin’/ Everything is broken ….” Everything from individual selves to social structures and systems — even the church is broken. And in the con­ventional telling we know how it goes: “You break it, you buy it.” We own it. We’re stuck with the mess: poverty, wars, racism, disease. People get this.

What people do not often get, though, and what we have the privilege of sharing is the gospel that tells a dif­ferent story. The good news is that Jesus is the one who does the buying. Jesus redeems us at great cost, giving his life as a ransom for many. Jesus mediates divine for­giveness, promising to mend our broken lives and heal all creation.

As we approach Lent, that 40-day stretch designed for spiritual reflection, including repentance and confes­sion of s-s-s-sin, it helps prevent us from putting the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble. Yes, let’s very deliberately confess our brokenness, let’s tell the truth about ourselves and the world, but in order that we might celebrate more deeply the restoration God prom­ises through the life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the Savior of all.

Clearly confession is necessary in our bull-in-a-china-shop lives and world. James 5:16 even cranks it up a notch, urging us to ongoingly “confess our sins to one another.” “The Message” says, “Make it your com­mon practice.” But, again, note why: “That you may be healed.” Like exposing wounds to the fresh air of day, mutual confession can be healing.

I once confessed to a friend of mine how I felt attracted to a not-quite-available gentleman friend — and almost immediately the attrac­tion dissipated, as if speaking the truth broke the spell. Some years ago I met weekly with two other women to practice telling the truth about our lives to one another — and hoo boy did that ever help me think about what I was doing before I did it and saved me much pain. Once during the prayer of confession our worship leader invited the congregation to name our sins out loud. And with each word spoken – “anger, injustice, selfishness, consumerism, lack of caring, lust, gluttony, judgmentalism, unwillingness to forgive” — it was heal­ing to know we were not alone.

G. K. Chesterton once declared that sin is “the only empirically proven doctrine of the Christian faith.” True enough. May God grant that confession becomes our common practice, as well … that we may be healed.


Heidi H Armstrong NarrowHEIDI HUSTED ARMSTRONG serves as an interim pastor in the Pacific Northwest.