at the risk of seeming ridiculous…

the great sins.

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on April 21, 2010

After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. -Matthew 3:16-4:1

i’m a troubled-yet-grateful product of the korean-american evangelical church.  for all the issues that i hold against the church, i am thankful for the love that i deeply felt.  much of who i am today, i can recognize pathways that lead back to those wonderful times where i’ve encountered God deeply.  whether it was during the times of heartfelt worship, whether it was the passionate preaching, whether it was the loving hugs and beloved gazes, whether it was the warmth of families coming together for a purpose much greater than the struggling realities of immigrant life… i only have tears of joy for the dynamic space in which i encountered God deeply, beautifully, and powerfully.  it was where i first glimpsed what it meant to be a part of a family bonded not by blood, but by love.  i learned about and felt community there.  and in many ways, i am often on a perpetual search to find that other sense of home, outside safety of my immediate family, in the places i am placed.

often times, i also wonder whether it was just love that brought my church(es) together.  i wonder if we came together more because we had a common enemy: sin.  i wonder if it was more the fear of sin and its eternal consequences that drove us together… rather than the courage of unconditional love.  i wonder.  i wonder.

sin took on many forms as i proceeded through my faith journey.  as a person who desires deeply to follow after my beloved jesus… to be engulfed in the grace that is divine love… i was always presented with a barrier.  that sin marked a clear boundary between my own sense of being and the consuming grace that calls for a costly sacrifice to wade in its presence.  that sin must be dealt with.  though impossible on our own, though perpetual because of our flaws… it was something to be let go of.

sin first most vividly occupied the realm of sexuality.  that almost all sexual practices were deemed heinous in the eyes of God, unless done within the confines of what the church deemed as sacred.  but perhaps even then, the eyes of God are relentless… searching… judging… condemning.  sin then took the form of certain social practices.  worldly actions: cussing, listening to unholy music, reading ungodly texts, disobeying your parents (even if one’s parents’ wishes posited your self-detriment)… these actions took the forefront.  it’s interesting when these notions of sin came into play… late elementary/junior-high school then high school as you went into college.  of course, these notions aren’t confined to just those time periods… they arise from a certain perception about human progress and evils that exist for its detriment.  in short, these ideas of sin (as well as many others) are threaded throughout one’s life, given the sort of circumstances that i grew up in.

but then came college, aka good ol’ liberal values found in the halls of secular academia.  be suspicious of everything.  personally, i saw academia as another tool for reflection.  in light of my faith posture, this meant expanding my horizon of sin to encompass other things: poverty is evil, war is heinous, homophobia is hurtful to jesus, etc.  these notions, of course, didn’t fly so well.

i mention all this not out of an angry spirit, but rather one of honest reflection.  i pose this trajectory because i truly desire to understand the category of sin in a biblical, theological, and humane manner.  i want to show that “sin”, like other biblical concepts, are fluid.  fluid in that the content changes with the times we are in.  for example, what is commonly perceived as sin today, may not have been what it was during jesus’ time.  that perhaps sin might have occupied other elements way back when.  or perhaps we modern readers of the bible have a remnant perception of what these theological categories meant exactly throughout all time.  i’m not being sarcastic… i’m just pointing out that the burden of proof falls on those who hold such a stance.

so what am i trying to get at?

i’m trying to open up the question of sin.  what is it?  how do we perceive it?  how do we fight it?  and perhaps the most important existential question of all: are we missing the point?

i find it interesting that jesus, that mysterious lover… the force of all love and beauty behind the cosmos born in poverty, straw and horse shit… this very jesus peaced out after God bestowed his blessing and spirit on him.  instead of running into the marketplace, he chose instead to fast and chill in the desert with the devil.  how’s that for mysterious?

an interesting move: to be called a beloved son and receive godly favor before he ever did anything… then to occupy a place where he confronted the greatest sins (my reading… after all, would not the devil want to tempt God-incarnate with the craziest sins?).

these sins were to be overcome before he began any of his work, his ministry.  thus perhaps the gospel writer is compositionally framing jesus’ ministry in light of this fierce confrontation.

so what are the greatest sins?

1. abundance of food
2. wealth
3. power

let us stop here.
let us reflect deeply on these great sins.
and let us recognize that we in the modern-day roman empire hold all that.

what is sin?
or perhaps more terrifyingly… how do we repent?

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