Today, I experienced an interesting moment of convergence. Last night we spent time in our home group discussing the nature of sin. We had talked about how the Western Christian concept of sin as breaking a Law and thereby punishable by death was an incorrect perspective. Rather, the biblical idea of sin is that it is our failure to be truly human as God intended — to live in communion with God and then to be his image to the rest of creation. Sin is our failure to do this and the resulting death we experience is within the very fabric of our being, thus breaking and corrupting everything we touch.
Last night’s conversation was fresh in my mind this afternoon as I listened to a recent podcast by Frederica Mathewes-Green while driving home from work on the 605 Freeway. The title of the podcast was “Sin As Pollution.” In the podcast, Frederica was describing the effects of sin by reading part of a monologue by Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame.
The monologue was in the form of a letter written by Jim, a man who was waiting on his front yard to be picked up by a woman from work with whom he was going to attend a conference and with whom he was tempted to begin an affair.
As Jim is waiting to be picked up by this woman, he waxes reflective about the repercussion of his potential affair. As he looks down the street at his neighbors’ homes, Jim realizes that his infidelity will pollute many lives. He states, “Although I thought my sins would be secret, they would be no more secret than an earthquake.” His reflections climax with this powerful and moving image, “When my wife and I scream in senseless anger, blocks away, a little girl we do not know, spills a bowl of gravy all over a white tablecloth.”
And as I listened to Frederica read this line, on the other side of the freeway, a white Ford Expedition streaked by being pursued by a train of police cars with lights flashing and sirens screaming. I saw sin’s pollution firsthand. There were hundreds of drivers this afternoon on the southbound 605. And the driver, trying to escape the police and probably the consequences of his sin, was polluting everyone around him in potentially harmful and dangerous ways. I hoped and prayed that this high-speed pursuit would end safely and peacefully; hoping and praying that the driver’s sins would not intersect and destroy someone else’s life on that freeway.
Next week, we observe Holy Week for the Eastern Orthodox Church. The last several weeks have been a communal journey to the cross that has been filled with stories, Scriptures, songs, fasting and prayers with a common theme — “Lord, have mercy.”
May the Lord have mercy on my sins, on our sins, on the world’s sins. May he trample death through death. May he bring the life of God that we so desperately need. And may he fully fashion us into the image of God, as embodied in his own life, so that we will be ultimately free from sin.
Listen to Frederica’s podcast, “Sin As Pollution.”
5 thoughts on “An Interesting Convergence”
I just listened to that today as well. It was very good and very close to home for me. Made me weep for my sin. Thank God for his mercy.
You were on the Highways of Orange County noticing a White GM Truck going possibly 105 mph whizzing past traffic? CNN Headline News enticed the audience for ratings by telling us their was one cop following ‘her’ during the whole chase. I find it ironic that Car Thieves being chased at are driving aimlessly with no place to hide with the obvious Choppers above. Oh yea and at 11:40 His Holiness addressed the U.N. Then the 2008 candidates were bickering at each other while the economy goes down the drain. It’s another mile a minute in this countries inattentive and unfocused priorities of Americans.
In the meanwhile I hope your descent in the Holiest of Weeks be a pleasant one for your family. From one Orthodox lurker to another. God Bless.
I hope you’ll bear my differing views as you share the views of Eastern Orthodoxy.
Regarding the definition of sin, it has evolved with the times like many other things. According to Romans, sin is anything that “falls short of the glory of God” or to put it differently, anything that hinders or short-changes the full glory and honor that is due to God. So it ought to be defined in relation to God. But unfortunately, our day and age has changed this orietation to horizontal focus. So sin is something that something that is harmful to self and others. Granted that most sins have damaging or polluting effects, but when sin is committed, the primary “victim” or the offended party is not humans but God. His name, honor, and glory is defamed and trampled upon. This is why when David sinned with Bathsheba, he wrote, “to you alone have I sinned” even though he clearly sinned against multiple parties.
Defining sin as something that chiefly pollutes and harms ourselves tends to lessen the weight and seriousness of sin. It also makes God’s eternal punishment look like a gross over-reaction. In Christ.
Thank you to all that have commented. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to stay up with your comments. Sung, I enjoy hearing your views, so please feel free to continue commenting. I agree with you in your comments about sin. Our culture is especially adept at redefining sin as something that harms ourselves. You are right in quoting Romans saying that all have sinned and “fall short of the glory of God.” The point of my post was to reflect on what is “the glory of God” of which we fall short. Most Evangelical Christians would define that phrase as “perfect obedience to God’s Law.” In that light, sin takes on a juridical or legalistic view. But Ancient Christianity viewed “falling short of the glory of God” as the failure to be truly human as God intended — to be the image of God. Being the image of God required dependent communion with him, interdependent communion with each other and proper stewardship over creation. This is a much more holistic understanding of sin. Too often, the legalistic perspective of sin devolves into sin as mere obedience to a law. But as we all know from experience, we can still sin even if we’re being legally obedient to God’s Law. For example, this is the core of St Paul’s exhortations in 1 Corinthians 13. Love is at the core of being the image of God and therefore attaining God’s glory.
It looks like your leading to Easter has been so full in all sense of the word. I really appreciate the length at which Eastern Orthodoxy goes to commemorate and experience the passion of Christ.
In response to your comment, I’m not sure that I would necessarily translate “falling short of the glory of God” into “imperfect obedience to God’s law.” There are so many Christians who see it from strictly judical perspective, as Romans teaches, the Law was given to define sin. Sin had already existed before the Law but the coming of the Law had multiplied sins even more. However, sin really entails so much more than just judicial infractions, as you said.
Judging from the phrase you used in the comment, would you say that “To be the image of God,” is the ultimate purpose of our existence? That is the impression I get. If that is the case, then you would not get any objection from me but I’m not so sure that it is the chief purpose from my reading of the Scriptures. I default to the Westminster Confessions that says that the chief end of Man is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” My existence is primarily for this purpose and my reflection of God’s image in me is the result of my glorifying Him. I’m not sure if you’re just differing in semantics. So for example, when I fail to reflect God’s goodness and providence through my worrying, then I am sinning. In this sense, I’m not necessarily referring to the judicial shortcoming. It’s quite relational because my actions or thoughts reflect something about God’s character.