Thursday, March 21, 2013

Demoting Sin

Laurna Strikwerda

Sin has long been a problematic concept for me, and I suspect I’m not alone. I don't just wrestle with sin itself, I wrestle with how to think about it, and what it is. I understood from a young age that sin was what kept me from God - if I felt that God was far away, or displeased with me, it must be because my mind had wandered in church (often) or I had disobeyed my mother. 

Marcus Borg writes in his chapter on sin in "Speaking Christian," that sin, in heaven-and-hell Christianity, "is the central issue in our life with God. . . . sin is the 'macro-metaphor' for what ails us." 

For much of my life, the only way that I knew how to talk about brokenness, distance from God, or pain in religious language was to talk about sin. 

As I grew older, I began to think about some of my own struggles in a framework centered around sin: when I felt like I was losing my battle to find a sense self-worth, I called it sin. When I worried about the future, I reminded myself worry was a sin- which only made moving past those struggles harder. But I didn't know how else to talk about struggle, difficulty or pain in Christian language without framing them as problems stemming from sin.

Learning about feminist theology several years ago made me rethink that frame. I learned about the ways in which many of the metaphors that we consider central to Christianity have, in fact, been shaped by those who had the power to develop and transmit those metaphors. Many communities’ and individuals’ voices have been left out of this conversation. Sin becoming our "macro-metaphor" for our relationship with God is part of that legacy of marginalization. 

Borg's writing on sin provides a different, and much wider, lens on how we can see our brokenness, pain, or distance from God. In writing about sin, Borg does not minimize it or its effects - he points out that it is a real "power that holds us in bondage." To sin is to put some force other than God at the center of lives. 

But he also provides a different way of understanding how humans relate to, and are reconciled with, God. 

Sin and forgiveness do not have to be the only way that we think about this reconciliation. Exile and return, infirmity and healing, and bondage and liberation are also ways that we experience God in our lives. 

For me, these metaphors provide different ways of seeing my own struggles. What if I could think of my battle to stop worrying about the future and trust in God as a story of bondage and liberation? What if we began to practice these new ways of seeing as a church community? What other stories might we be able to hear? How would we see ourselves – and our relationship to God – differently? 

Laurna Strikwerda is a parishioner at St. Stephen and the Incarnation. Share your thoughts and reflections on Facebook.