What is sin? If we’re aiming to be good, sin is when we miss that mark (harmartia). Sin is when we hurt one another (named right there in Numbers 5:6 – breaking the relationship we have with the Source of All). Sin is when we hurt the planet. Sin happens in all shapes and sizes, knows no limitations on social standing or educational achievement, and certainly isn’t reflected in how much or how little we have or what kind of sickness we might suffer. Yes, people have judged others and even written those judgments down as the best understanding of how we’re called to be, but -- God be praised! – we do not have to hold onto those understandings when they themselves end up contributing to more sin.
We can learn from our sins. We don’t have to learn to be terrified of sinning more – that just leads to further trouble when we do manage the imperfect ways we are. This world is interdependent; we belong already to the whole of it just by being here. That means we participate and share in the reality of the sins we commit, our neighbors commit, and those people we hazily imagine live over yonder commit. That also means, thankfully, we don’t have to commit every sin ourselves to learn from them. We can tell stories. We can pay attention to how people can change for the better. We can assist one another in making amends and if there’s no one we can make amends to, we can help with some restitution work at large – in peacebuilding or ecological efforts or nurturing people we don’t know.
We can also learn to let go of the competitive better than you on the ladder of holiness hoo-ha that is another sin – useful teaching tool, but abusive weapon when it takes us into the temptation not to admit our troubles, or to whack other people with how good we are. We’ve sinned too. We’re probably going to sin tomorrow – pass someone by who needs help, live in a country where the mass transportation system relies on giant gas-guzzling individual people movers, think some unkind thoughts, get downright ornery feeling no really we’re different and we shouldn’t have to suffer. Sinning is so common, you’re not exceptional to be a sinner, and you’re not exceptional to suffer from the sins of others.
We can learn from sin. We can turn toward compassion, forgiveness, mercy, love, and justice. We sin. And we still have choices to learn how to sin less, how to contribute more to goodness than we’re taking out in our daily sins, how to be still when we’re feeling pressured and then make the better choice, which isn’t always the easier one.
One of the gifts that can be very good in community is holding one another accountable in love for our sins. One of the ways we can sin and be abusive in community is when we smack down others for their sinfulness and don’t offer a way of restitution, healing, and restoration, let alone the simple mercy of being grateful that we aren’t currently in such a terrible spotlight. Hurting others isn’t something that contributes to the good, and it isn’t holding folks accountable. People sin. I sin. You sin. We sin. So let’s learn from it, rededicate ourselves many times each day to the good that is calling us, and make the world a little better, having been changed by our experiences of sin for the good.