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.