Sin, Good Friday, and Us
Sin is a depressing subject. “Accentuate the Positive,” the song says, and positive thinking and inflated self-images are the pop-psych answer of our times. So why peer at our dark side during Lent? And why spend six Bible for Dummies weeks trudging through the Seven Deadly Sins?
One answer is that smart, faithful people have told us to. Centuries of Christians have found the study of sin helpful – from 4th-century monks in Egypt, through Dante’s 13th Century Inferno, on to C.S. Lewis’ 20th-century run at the Devil’s playbook with his Screwtape Letters. These authors agree that sin’s power is best disarmed directly.
But that just moves the question back one step: Why flee sin? It sounds like a ludicrous question for Christians. Of course we hope to flee sin! But on another level, we need to ask after our motivation for fleeing sin.
From our first weeks alive, we learn that people like us more if we do things that please them. It’s deeply engrained. That’s ok, and God bless us for learning fast. But you and I too quickly apply that instinct to our relationship with God: “We avoid sin to win God’s love.” Problem: that road does not lead home. Ask the Pharisees.
Theological quandaries like this often require the help of Texas recording artist Lyle Lovett. His song, “God Will,” speaks the heart of a man whose love has worn thin: Who keeps on trusting you /when you've been cheating /and spending your nights on the town? /And who keeps on saying / that he still wants you/when you're through running around?/And who keeps on loving you/when you've been lying/saying things ain't what they seem? / God does/but I don't! /God will / but I won't! / And that's the difference / between God and me!
In his very wry way, Lyle Lovett brings Jesus’ good news: God’s inexhaustible love never wears thin, no matter what we do. Philip Yancey puts it this way: “Nothing you can do can make God love you any less. And nothing you do can make God love you any more.” God’s infinite love does not expand or contract because you and I sin or don’t sin. Friday’s old rugged cross shows us that.
Let’s ask our question one more time: Why avoid sin? Because it may not move God, but sin surely moves us. Vices glitter, and our eyes widen and we snatch it. But afterward we find ourselves yards further away from God. “Their end,” as Paul has it, “is death.”
But God’s free gift is life. This time, our guide is Annie LaMott, another deft theologian among us: “God loves us exactly as we are…and too much to leave us exactly as we are!” We’re most fully alive when we are most fully with God.
God bless your Holy Week walk with God to the cross.