Speaking of definitions, let’s go back to the start. What makes Christians, Christians? For many the ideas of St. Paul speak to this in the book of Romans, especially the 3rd chapter. In it, there is that phrase that most will repeat out of context “For all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God”. From there most would immediately point to another work by St. Paul, Ephesians 2. “For by Grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” Finally, the coup de gras, going to John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. So we know that there is this idea that we are all sinners, and therefore we need Jesus to believe in him to save us from the consequences of sin. That’s the basic idea of Christendom right? So what is sin?
If we go back to the original languages, Greek and Biblical Hebrew, we have a term that is used for spear throwing and archery. In Greek, we have hamartia which means to miss the mark. This term was often used for spear throwing and meant to miss the target altogether. The Hebrew word, hata, is an archery term for missing the “bullseye” but still hitting the target. In Latin, sine, which the English word sin may have come from, means without or alone, by oneself. This last one is a bit odd since the Greek word syn means together or sun. So what does it mean to be a sinner then? Does it mean that we miss the mark? What mark? What bullseye should we be aiming for?
The idea of sin is a transgression against a divine law or command. So if we take this idea and apply it to the teachings of Jesus, we would need to know which laws we needed to keep, correct? So let’s ask Jesus, “What is the most important law or commandment?” “He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’” Luke 10:26-28. So if we are to take Jesus at his word here love is the target we are aiming at. Love is the greatest law and commandment. Love for both God and our Neighbor.
Before I get too much further I need to put a little disclaimer. For those of you who have read my work before, I know this is much more Bible-y than I normally get. Bare with me. For those of you who may be reading for the first time, or maybe not. I just have to say, I understand. I was there once. I know how scary it can be too closely examine tightly held beliefs. I know that it feels like the top of Pandora’s box, that if you take just a little peek it will unleash all sorts of evils into your soul. I know that fear. I had that fear. I know all about Pascal’s wager. I know all about the horrors of hell. I know. I see you. I hear that small guilty voice in your head. It spoke to me once too. It tells you that, “if you do this you will be alone. Nobody will love you. You don’t matter.” I get it. I’m not asking for you to get rid of your faith. I’m not asking you to become a heretic. I’m not asking you to throw everything to the wind. All I ask is one question. “What if I’m wrong?”
This thought has come to me in many different ways over the course of my life. One of my earliest memories that haunts me is of street “witnessing” with my youth group when I was a punk know-it-all jackass teen trying to convince some guy outside a gas station of his need for God. What if I was wrong? What if he already found God? Did I cause him to have less of a relationship with the Divine? Then in college when I was taking Bible courses and learning deeply about what the Bible really said. I thought, “What if I was wrong about all this stuff before?” letting go of tightly held beliefs was painful and difficult. But it freed me to learn more. It freed me to find a God that loved more deeply and fully than I could have possibly imagined before. Still, the question remains for me for almost everything, “What if I’m wrong?”
So let’s apply that to this topic. What if we’ve been wrong about sin? Yes, I understand it is the need for God and the fact that all humans are imperfect and we don’t get things right. What if we are wrong about our focus on it? Have you ever considered that? One of my prompts for this was someone asking me about atonement. I wrote an article about it, which I don’t know if it will be published or not. But, I thought a lot about it. Did God set up this cosmic need for a sacrifice in case someone screwed up? Why? Why would God do that if God was all knowing, all powerful, and all loving? God had to know someone was going to screw up eventually, right? I read through many different theories on the atonement. I read about how it all came back to this idea of a transactional idea of cosmic justice that is based on very human ideas. I even read about Jewish sacrifice.
The ancient Judaic tradition of Sacrifice and Offering is not really the same concept that many have of it now. Many people picture half naked muscle bound priests chanting in an unintelligible language raising a ritualistic sword or dagger over a poor defenseless child or animal. Dark and dirty scenes from famous movies flash into the mind like the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where a shaman is chanting one of the names of the god Kali before he plucks the heart of the human sacrifice from his chest. Yeah, sacrifice was never really done that way or meant that way, to begin with. If we go way back we see the sacrifices brought to God by Cain and Able. There is this whole thing where the animal was more appropriate than the veggies thing, and something gets lost in translation. In fact, the sacrifice ritual was never meant as the cleansing in and of itself. Tracy Rich from the website JewFAQ.com puts it this way, “qorbanot have no expiating effect unless the person making the offering sincerely repents his or her actions before making the offering, and makes restitution to any person who was harmed by the violation.” The act itself didn’t remove the sin or even clean the person; it was the act of doing something because we as human beings are wired that way. We feel as if we need to do something in order to gain full forgiveness from God or even the person we wronged.
So the whole idea of the atonement got to be mixed up in this idea that we were “cleansed by the blood of the lamb”. No, that’s not the case. The case is that God forgave us for everything up on that cross. Jesus said before that, we are already forgiven. So this brings me around to the question of sin. What if we were wrong? What if sin doesn’t matter anymore. What really matters is how we treat each other, the world, and everything given to us. Jesus wasn’t our scapegoat. Jesus didn’t take care of things just so we could squander everything we have and take advantage of it and people. No! That is what Paul talks about in Romans 6. The point was that we needed to take responsibility for our own actions. Fess up to the wrongs that we did, and try to make them better. We see that in the Qorbanot. We see that in the Christian Bible. Sin was not the thing we needed to worry about, it was a symptom of the fact that, you know what, we are bad human beings.
We got so focused on sin we lost sight of what really mattered. We forgot to love our fellow man, our world, and everything in it. We forgot what it meant to love. We got mixed up in this idea of morality and ridding ourselves of “sin”, contrived or not, that we forgot what Jesus told us was most important. LOVE. Love God, love others, and love yourself. That’s it. Jesus didn’t mention be sinless in that. No, in fact, that’s what the people who asked were looking for. So maybe missing the mark is just practice at trying to be a better human being. It doesn’t matter if we sin because God already took care of that. What matters is that we love and we live, and we do it to the fullest. We need to show the world, all creatures, and human beings alike, that they are not alone, they matter to us. Just as you are not alone, you matter. You are not alone. You matter to me.