Sin, Version 2.0

Sunday School


One of the challenges of NEXT is that it invites you to revisit many of your ‘Sunday School’ beliefs that haven’t been revisited for many years. Sometimes these old truths need to get dusted of, inspected and reconsidered in the light of the years that have transpired since. Its not that these old beliefs are wrong, but often we find them too small.
I can recall an old Sunday School song that had sought to teach some basic truths about the great problem we face as humans.  This great problem, the fundamental dilemma of our cosmos the Christian traditions labels as sin. The socialisation of this song must have been very powerful, for as soon as I came across these words, the melody came rushing back to my mind, like I was standing on a stage in front of church in a crowd of 6 year olds performing for the adults gathered there.

Sin is a killer
And sin is a destroyer
And sin is all the bad things that we do
And all the bad things that we do
Are no good for me and you
And sin separates us from God
                                      (Yes it does!)
Sin separates us from God

I wonder what you hear and how you respond to these lyrics?

While many things can be said, I want to leave you with 2 thoughts that highlight this approach as at least ‘small’ and may need to be enlarged.


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard both sin, and our great problem as humans as being ‘separated from God’.  But I have to confess that I no longer understand this to be the case, or at least it represents a poor use of language.  Separation is geo-spatial language.  When two persons are separated, it is space that lies in between.  But how does one become separated from an omnipresent God in whom we ‘live and move and have our very being’ (Acts 17:28).

Instead I wonder whether the evidence of ‘sin’ in our lives is the very fact that we interpret our experience as that of being separated from God.  Thus, when we experience the healing that comes from the Good News, we come to understand ourselves as never in fact being separated from God.  Estranged, maybe.  But not geo-spatially removed.

All the bad things that we do?

The second thing to consider is the nature of sin itself (as opposed to the effects of sin).  What constitutes sin?

According to the song, sin happens when we do bad things.  By corollary, when bad things aren’t being done, we aren’t sinning.

Once again, it is not that this is wrong, per se.  It is just such a limited and truncated view.  Something that I appreciate about the Bible, is that it does not shy away from brokenness, from pain, from grief … from the bad stuff of life.  And it seems to me, that the bible stubbornly insists that when it comes to sin, the story is waaaaaaaay worse than just the bad things we do (from time to time).

It is said, that those cultures who live in snow have many different words for snow because when your life depends on figuring out what kind of conditions you find yourself in, having a nuanced lexicon can make all the difference in the world.

Likewise, the Bible has quite a nuanced vocabulary for sin.  Not because it is repressive and draconian.  But rather because it seeks to offer a profound and insightful assessment of the circumstance we find ourselves in.

In fact the story on sin, is that is way bigger than yours or my behaviour.  Neither is sin fully accounted for if we include our thoughts and intentions.  Rather, we have to come to terms with all things are not the way they ought to be.  And when I say, all things … I mean all things.  Our relationships suffer because of sin.  Our bodies suffer because of sin.  Our communities suffer because sin has become systemically etched into the very way we function as a society.  Our cosmos suffers because our ecologies have become degraded.

Big or Small Gospel?

My point in all of this is not to make you depressed.  Rather I want to highlight that just as the Christian tradition does not advocate a simplistic view of our broken human, relational, societal and cosmic condition – neither does it portray a simplistic image of redemption.  The Good News needs to be big enough to encounter brokenness in all its forms, and right all wrongs wherever they may be found.

The Good News for you then, might be that if you feel like the story the bible offers about sin and redemption is trite, simplistic or naive and doesn’t adequately respond to the complex horrors you perceive transpiring in our world, then my encouragement to you would be to revisit this question of sin.  It may be that some old beliefs and  perceptions are in fact young beliefs and perceptions that no are no longer adequate to the task.










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