I have a problem with sin. I’m not talking about my shortcomings and guilt for the things I’ve done wrong that separate me from God. I’m talking about sin as Ben Watson, tight end for the New Orleans Saints, identified it this past week. After the grand jury verdict was delivered in the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the subsequent riots and protests that broke out there, Ben Watson responded via his Facebook page. In his post he says:
“ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. “
I’m sorry, but this sounds like making excuses. Like there was nothing else those people could have done but react the way they did. As if sin made them do it. But sin didn’t make them do it. They chose to do it. The existence of sin gave them the option to riot, loot, and burn; and that’s what they chose to do. If sin were the cause, then why didn’t everyone feel the need to react in similar fashion?
I’ve heard this kind of thinking before and it I don’t like it. To me it’s a scapegoat. An excuse for doing bad things and not taking responsibility for them. Sin is a choice. It’s as if by making sin the reason for the things that occur in this world that we are no longer responsible for our actions. We can write them all off as “out of my control”. I can’t use that excuse at work when I don’t follow through on a project and it definitely doesn’t fly when my kids are disobedient at home or school. I guarantee you all the people who burned buildings, robbed stores and caused chaos in the streets knew exactly what they were doing was wrong. It’s as if Michael Brown’s stepfather couldn’t control himself as if he were possessed when he shouted to an already angry town “Burn this @*%# down”. No, all of it was a choice and could have been stopped if they wanted to.
Ben Watson’s response comes from a Christian doctrine called “original sin”. This doctrine has never really made sense to me and the more I study and seek to know and understand God better, the less and less it sits right with me. The doctrine essentially states that since the first sin committed by Adam and Eve, humanity is naturally bent towards sinfulness. So Ben Watson’s line of thought is consistent with this belief that we as humans just can’t help ourselves when it comes to spinning out of control. Therefore as John Bradford the 16th century theologian would say “but for the grace of God go I”; murdering, raping, lying, looting, and rioting.
But doesn’t original sin contradict our belief in God giving us free will? To me sin is a willful choice resulting from free will. Free will given to us by a God and creator to choose whether to love and obey or not. Rabbi Tovia Singer on the website Outreach Judaism explains that the concept of original sin undermines the entire concept of free will. This is a disturbing point to make. If we are naturally bent toward sin, we inherently have little to no free will to steer from it. Our acceptance of Christ as our savior and any inclination toward good would be contrary to ourselves and something which we would naturally reject. It would then make any kindhearted and good actions some sort of requirement for being a follower of Christ similar to forcing your kids to each lima beans because it’s good for them.
Over and over again in the Old Testament the Israelites are given a choice to choose between following God or not. And not once do you get this picture of pained acceptance of God as they are dragged kicking and screaming towards Him. They repent, which literally means to stop or turn away from, and follow God’s call (even if only for a short time). If God gives us the option to repent and choose, wouldn’t it make sense that somewhere in us also lies a natural tendency toward good? Look around you and you will see more people (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, or otherwise) doing good things than bad. Not because they feel some compulsion to do so for salvation sake, but because it is naturally in them. And there is a lot more good going on in the world than bad. The bad is just what makes it on the evening news.
This isn’t to say there isn’t the presence of sin in the world and it’s effects. Effects from the curse of sin brought about by Adam and Eve’s choice. And I’m not talking about avoiding the consequences of sin. I’m talking about the reasoning behind the action. If we give into this notion that bad things will happen because we will always be sinners until the second coming, we also give into the fact that we are incapable of doing something about it to begin with. It’s this “poor me, I’m so helpless and lost” attitude as if Jesus dying on the cross is the only thing that’s keeping us from being complete savages. The problem in that notion is there are way too many people who have accepted Jesus into their lives and continue to do rather sinful things.
A pastor friend of mine once described sin as anything that comes between you and God. I like this concept because it brought about a much broader perception of sin than just the ten commandments, a concept I felt Jesus elaborated upon during his ministry. Jesus took the commandment of murder and expanded the intent to include hateful thoughts. He took the commandment of adultery and expanded it to include lustful thinking. Jesus then went on to say if your hand offends you cut it off, or your eye causes you to sin pluck it out (Matt 5:29-30). Those sound like options to correct willful choices to me.
Let’s stop using “SIN” as an excuse. Yes, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). And we cannot save ourselves, as that only comes through Jesus (Acts 4:12). However, so long as we focus on the sinful nature of man we will fail to see the blessings of God working all around us and through us. We will continue to excuse each others sins and separation from God rather than accept that we can do anything through Christ (Phil 4:13) and resisting the devil (Jam. 4:7). Sin does not force us to separate ourselves from God, it gives us the option to do so. Therefore, if choosing to serve God (not rioting, looting, and burning) seems desirable to you, CHOOSE today who you will follow (Josh. 24:15).