The Twelve-Steppers have it down pat: “God don’t make trash.”
On mark-missing and being mistaken in what we say and do.
It is interesting how many of our human foibles – particularly when they are our own – tend to be more effectively dealt with as if we are correcting a missing of the mark.
Most Christians however are not taught that their mistakes are missing marks. Rather, sins are SINS; behavior that offends, disappoints or hurts God’s feelings. These notions are reflected in how we are exhorted to face up to our sins and sinfulness; to feel the cultural guilt, shame and sense of having offended a God who cannot tolerate sin with any degree of allowance.
Congregations are full of mark-missers, not sinners. Many have missed the mark big time. In the opinions of those who seem to specialize in detecting mark-missers and seek out indications of sin, mark-missers should be called to repentance.
Why? Because by theological notion they have offended a thin-skinned God who cannot tolerate you-know-what with any you-also-know-what. Trouble is that it’s hard to love with all one’s heart a low-tolerance-with-no-allowances kind of God. A God who cannot tolerate mark-missing to any degree is a God to be feared, not respected.
We know we are not expected to be perfectionists in this life. We know that perfectionists not only die young with high blood pressure, but also they have unreasonable expectations and make unreasonable demands on those around them.
Perfectionists tend to be highly intolerant of “flaw-ful-ness” and imperfection in others. Likewise, most perfectionists imagine themselves to be subject to the terror of not being tolerated with much degree of allowance by those upline in a hierarchy whom perfectionists view as powers that be.
Why would we need to believe in a Supremely Divine Perfectionist who has labeled His own children as inherently sinful; as too tragically flawed to turn out perfect?
… and who stubbornly and relentlessly insists that He (The Supreme Divine) is is unable to tolerate you-know-the-rest?
Sin has been incorrectly defined and then institutionalized for the most part as a wicked act, something that is in a nasty way an affront to God. Acceptance of the notion of sin suggests that the God of no- compassion is obsessed with morality as the basic concept by which Goodness is defined. The implication suggests that therefore we mere mortals should also obsess on sin.
So many among us accept the changed meaning and image of sin as something immoral which is then married to the image of a judgmental and punitive God.
It then follows that sin creates in our lives a sense of something connected with the more powerful word, “evil”.
It then becomes easy to accept the idea that the Divine Monarch Himself is offended – precisely because when we sin; because we commit evil acts.
One might conclude that when the phrase “we are all sinners” is expressed, the horrific “we are all evil” is just around the bend. Sinfulness viewed in that manner then literally relegates humanity to living in a state of criminal activity as viewed by God.
That seems to be the desired state needful to those who equate morality to theology; whose pastoral livings are based on teaching about the evil of sin and offering advice on how to clean it up.
Once we can conceive of God being offended, we cause God to no longer be God.
God should be much larger then merely being “offended.” An offended God has been reduced to a reflection if judgmental mortals ; as such is no longer really God or God-like.
It gives lie to any pronouncement of mercy. Jesus understood this and used the Prodigal Son to demonstrate it.
From the labels of sin and evil, the next logical step with sin is a concept of punishment, exclusion or discriminatory thinking in which the sinner somehow has failed while the rest are still acceptable to God.
The sinner now has a handicap that leaves him/her “less-than” until the other FORM-ula (as in form over substance) ingredient of repentance is accomplished.
Exclusionary thinking awakens discrimination at this point. Many believers almost unconsciously decide that since the sinner is now “less-than” what true believers consider themselves to be, many believers suddenly find themselves “uncomfortable” in the presence of sin and/or sinners.
Believers and non-believers tend to exclude by condemnation, by social avoidance, by shunning, by excommunication or by something worse. All of which is a false and non-scriptural path and reflects the spiritually violent thinking of the Prodigal Son’s older brother.
The arrogance of that act is reflected in Roman Catholic calls to Crusades and more horribly in the Inquisition. When we casually equate the word “sin” with “evil” we are never very far from looking like and participating in the evil acts of those Inquisition accusers who self-righteously assumed that they had a God-approved right to judge and punish.
Reformers such as Luther only put a Protestant spin on the traditional concepts of sin which came out of Roman Catholic dogma – concepts that remain reflected and camouflaged within the Bible today.
Protestant fundamentalists thrive on the strength of viewing the Bible as inerrant and absolute and portraying the terrible image of a punitive monarchical God. It was not Catholics who executed so-called heretics and witches in New England in the 1600’s. It was Protestants.
We members of a Christian society who casually evoke this altered meaning in our use of the word “sin” have habitualized a tendency to judge. We don’t have to be bigots to suffer from the illness of self-righteousness. All we have to be is of a mind that one of our spiritual “shoulds” is to discern not “sin” but whoever has “sinned”.
We allow ourselves to condemn the action and feel to thank God that we have not done what the “sinner” has done.
However we tend not to stop there. Many of us behave in ways that suggest that we personally feel more holy, more worthy and even more righteous than the sinner. We then deserve the blessings God bestows while sinners do not deserve those blessings.
“We don’t hate the sinner. We hate the sin, but we love the sinner.” And many of us lord it over the sinner.
There is a smugness and condescension in that statement that is almost impossible to hide. When preached to the choir, such a statement might receive applause. However, as a public declaration of attitude, it is something detrimental to an image of Christian compassion and understanding.
It is not the thinking of the Father of the Prodigal Son.
It is a thinking that lies at the heart of an attitude which accelerates from hating the sin to advocating punitive action against the sinner.
It is not “Go, and sin no more.”
Again, Jesus understood this. He made no attempt to modify the stoning of the woman caught in adultery into something less capital but still punitive. He simply said in effect,
“Go and sin no more. Try to stop missing the mark and you will stop harming yourself and others.”
We as a society have systems in place to apply punitive sanctions against those whose behavior crosses the line into criminal activity. Unless we honestly believe that “sin equals crime”, we have no justification for being invested in our morally judgment-and-punish business.
It is true that we have every right to make choices around who will be the friends with whom we can safely interact. Common sense dictates that we should do so. But if we truly think we can love the sinner while abhorring the sin, let us put to the test the idea of loving neighbors as we love self –even if we can only do so from afar.
If those who preach can get those mortal congregations who judge to stop doing so, they will do a great work in the social context truly honest and compassionate living.
It is not God who insists that we label ourselves and convince ourselves that we are sinners, sinful and essentially evil-natured. It is merely other human beings, equally flawed and imperfect as we but who seem to insist that it must be God’s will that we all walk around labeling ourselves as sinners; as sinful and therefore bordering on evil as our natural mortal state.
Our own human experience has taught us the value of mental and spiritual reinforcement and its impact on successfully eliciting change that is self-motivated and more likely to come to pass.
We already know this.
So does our Divine Mother and Father, who do not consider his creation as something evil.
The Twelve-Steppers have it down pat: “God don’t make trash.”