Lesson 9: Sin in Our Time

It is easy to define sin as not doing God’s will or being separated from God, but what does that mean? If you turn to the Bible you can find rigid laws but also flexible love. You still have what Bob calls “the perennial problem of rigid rules that are generally but not always correct versus flexible rules that accommodate to the circumstances but require an intellectual and ethical honesty that are not always present”.

But I think it goes beyond that in our time. In a society that practices radical freedom without the benefits of tradition and community, the definition of sin becomes an internal struggle within the individual conscience. One reaction is to pretend religion is a private matter between the individual and God, making sin a question of whether I have killed or stolen from anyone. Another is to define sin as simply hurting other people, a take off on the medical “no harm done” ethic.

Neither of these seems adequate for those who acknowledge Christian tradition. Yet they still ask what those ancient rules even mean after 2,000 years? 1) If technology offers safety from reproduction, why can’t consenting adults engage in sex without making promises of faithfulness? (Do not commit adultery), 2) In a free and affluent society, how do I balance the demands of job, family, church, and personal pleasure? (Observe the Sabbath, Honor father and mother), 3) If the economy depends on spending, why should I regard myself gluttonous and greedy when buying all the latest electronic merchandise? (Do not covet), 4) If a large international corporation engages in practices on the other side of the globe that are regarded as crimes in this country, should I buy their products? (Do not steal), 5) If I contribute to global warming and pollution and if I do not help feed the starving, am I complicit in the deaths of millions?(Do not kill), 6) If names do not have the power the ancients attributed to them, why should I worry about swearing in God’s name ? (Do not take God’s name in vain), 7) If I lie online or stretch the truth in advertising, have I really hurt anyone? (Do not bear false witness), 8) If technology seems to offer repair for any damage, why should I consider the next generation in my decisions? (Do not steal, kill, and covet).

When I contemplate such questions I always end up praying the Agnus Dei: “Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us”. It is the same response I have when hearing Jesus say, “Others say do not kill, I say do not be angry; others say love your neighbor, I say love your enemy; others say do not commit adultery, I say do not even look with lust; others say be fair, I say forgive”. “Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”

I think next week I’ll report the face-to- face classes’ discussion on either “Is it a sin not to go to church?” or “Is it a sin to view pornography in public places?”

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