When Paul famously listed the forces that could not keep us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39), sin was not among them. If I were to make such a list, sin would be at the very top. At this point I should probably state that my views are entirely my own. Please do not blame the Episcopal Church or any of my favorite writers of books or music for what I am about to state.
Sin is small. Stupidly small. It is negligible when compared with the love of God. It is ridiculous when compared with the beauty of the human soul and its image bearing of God. If the devil is the father of lies (he is), one of his biggest ones is convincing the human race that God is angry with us for our sins and that our sins keep us from God.
We have projected our own anger at ourselves onto God. We have attributed our own self loathing to our creator. If we had been sinned against, we would be wrathful and would seek justice. We would want the scales to be balanced. This is a human trait. It is not a divine trait. God is not human. God is not looking for satisfaction like some Mafia don.
For what it’s worth, I believe in the fall of man. I believe that Adam and Eve – or more likely many Adams and Eves fell prey to the lie that they could become like God if they exercised their personal independence. They forgot that they were already like God, made in his image. Our (human) race fell from its original perfection and, hence, evil exists in the world.
I also believe that Jesus turned this “original sin” upside down by holding in his physical being all the pain and evil that our sin brought (and will ever bring) into the world. God, in human form, became all sin and suffered all the torment that we bring on ourselves and others through our sin. Was he paying a price? I know that is the usual language for this redemptive act, but I reject it.
Far from paying the price of our sins, God in human form was bearing the wrong, in solidarity and sympathy with us. It is by our sins that we suffer. They make us wrong, askew, disjointed, not our selves. We are out of place through sin. Jesus did not suffer in our stead; we still suffer. His suffering was salvific because it was offered in love. Love is what saves.
But how do we cure sin in our lives? I’ll tell you how we don’t cure it. We do not cure it by obsessing over it, by making lists of sins and categorizing their seriousness. We do not cure it by counting up our sins at the end of a day or a week or a year. We certainly do not cure sin by noting the sins of others.
God is, quite clearly, the cure. God is the cure for everything. Pray. Go to church. Sing hymns. Receive communion. Pray some more. Read the Bible. Practice virtues. Find Christ in the faces of all you meet. See God’s loving handiwork all around you. Pray even more. Only God can cure you of sin. Only God’s grace, which is already there waiting for you, can hold you, strengthen you, perfect you. It may take some time.
Have you ever seen a small child who is just learning to dress herself? Into the room she proudly comes with her shoes on the wrong feet. She quite possibly knows that something is wrong but she is too new at dressing herself to recognize what it is, much less is she able to correct it. As she gains experience, she will naturally slip her feet into her shoes correctly. She will button her blouse properly and wear her sweater right side out.
We adults know instantly when we go to put a right foot into a left shoe. We know when we bite into a piece of fish and find a bone. Experience. When we become spiritually mature, we know when we have sinned. It feels like a shoe on the wrong foot. It feels like a piece of wrapper stuck to the caramel. We fix it right away.
Of course, some candy wrappers are harder to spit out than others. Some almost taste as good as the candy itself. But please don’t think that God is watching us with a scorecard. There is no wrath in God. There is no hatred, only love. Christ was tempted as we are. Christ feels every bit of the horror we feel when we slip. He feels the sin of the little boy stealing a dollar out of his mother’s purse as well as the sin of the mass murderer. He can handle anything.
The one God will perfect his creation. The fall of humankind that occurred in the Garden left us weak and disoriented, unable to dress ourselves or discern what we are eating or doing. We long for God, and when we attain God it will be as spiritually mature people. God will wipe away every stain (and every tear) from us. He will bring us into oneness with his divinity. It may, however, take some time.