Monday, March 28, 2011

Taking sin and grace out of Church speak (part one)

I have been wondering about grace and sin. If you have never been to Church, what would those words mean to you? They had little to no meaning to me. Grace was something that I lacked when I was growing up. Grace meant that you didn’t trip on your platform, high-heeled shoes, your hair was always perfect and you knew just what to say.. Somehow grace had an element of lucky attached to it. You either had it or you didn’t…. I didn’t.

Sin was something I could never grasp the meaning of. Being accused of being a “sinner” didn’t mean anything to me. I was accused of a lot of things, being ugly, lazy, dumb… sinner was just another vicious label. It didn’t mean anything when someone said, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Well, again, what does glory mean anyway?

Language is important if you want to be cross cultural. I think it’s important to know what you are saying or not saying to the people you are talking to. So, what do grace and sin really mean… in plain English? I’m asking, not telling.

The dictionary, at least some dictionaries, define sin as the breaking of a moral or religious law .The word sin translated from the Greek means to miss the mark, like an archer that misses the target. It has a little more to it… like an archer that lost the prize because he missed the mark might be a better picture. That idea is understandable to me. To say that sin is doing something bad or wrong religiously or morally would mean two things. That you and I agree on what is morally wrong or that you and I agree on what is religiously wrong. Good luck with that these days! I believe that we can all intuitively know that we are in need of help from a God who wants to. But what does that look like?

Going back to the concept of missing out because we missed the mark, I see that message in every advertisement. I’m too fat, so I miss the mark and need to go on a diet, I miss the mark so I need a dating service to help me find the love of my life. I miss the mark, so I need an attorney, I miss the mark so I need a new kind of hair shampoo or deodorant or whatever. Missing the mark means to me we are inadequate. Growing up you couldn’t convince me I was a “sinner” because I would have argued with you about the meaning of “moral” or “religious” but there was no end of feeling inadequate. That sense of inadequacy has driven me to the feet of Jesus many times. As a mother, I can not even hope to make the mark… I don’t even know how. I’m not sure what the target even is but I can guarantee you that I’m missing it. I don’t feel adequate as a friend, a wife, a writer, you name it.

Does that feel like a flippant definition of sin? I wonder if getting a better understanding of what sin “feels” like would give us more of a handle of our real need for relief. In all the ways that I feel inadequate, I struggle with shame. There is a difference between shame and guilt. Guilt says you did something wrong. Shame says there is something wrong with me. Feeling inadequate carries with it the idea that I “should” be adequate… or that there is a way to become adequate if I just focus and work hard enough. How many shoes, hair products and self help books are sold on that premise? Hmmm, there is more to say, and I haven’t even thought much about our antidote (grace). But more thoughts will have to wait until tomorrow. What are your thoughts?


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