What is sin?
In a lecture recently we as a class were told that the only answer we can ever have to that question is, “I don’t really know.” Sin is beyond definition.
I don’t know yet if I occupy that position. But it has made me think more critically about the nature of sin, and begin to formulate a definition of sin that I am comfortable with. Ultimately, I may not arrive at a universally applicable definition, but I will at least form a subjective, individual one.
Someone once said that sin is mankind’s terrible capacity to misuse every good thing. I like this – particularly for the way it also leads naturally into thought about the consequences. Let me explain what I mean.
Many products we buy, especially tools or practical goods, come with instructions for their use. For example, an electric drill will have a range of uses that are within its intended functions. The drill will contain strong warnings against misuse – and the consequences if it is misused. And a can of fly spray actually has a warning to the effect of, “Deliberate misuse by concentrating and inhaling may be harmful or fatal.”
In many cases, misuse actually damages the product and renders it less effective, or destroys it altogether. And I think this is what sin is. It is to take something that was designed to be good (or ‘very good’ as God described creation in Genesis) but through our misuse, to render it ineffective.
Let’s take sexuality, for example – if for no other reason than that it is, I think, one of the most damaged aspects of God’s creation. God intended sex to be good – healthy, life-giving (in more ways than one), and fundamentally, well… good. God knows that when sexuality is used according to His instructions, it is safe, effective, and very good.
But we misuse it. Not all, but many of us, are guilty at some time or other, of misusing sexuality – even in small, seemingly inconsequential ways. For men, this is possibly more of a problem – I don’t really know, since I’ve never stepped into the mind of a woman. But many men struggle with the visual aspect of sexuality. And I’m not even talking necessarily about pornography, although that is clearly misuse on steroids!
To look at a female with even the slightest trace of lust, or even inappropriate appreciation, is to twist God’s good gift. We may think it does little harm, but in actual fact, it plants seeds that the enemy is more than willing to water and nurture. God’s intention was that we would only ever look at our wives in ‘that’ way, and so when we broaden that to include other females, we damage a good gift of God.
The enemy is smart enough to know that he can’t create anything new. Sin does not describe a category of evil conceptions – sin describes the distortion of that which God intended to be good. And actually, the enemy doesn’t disagree – he knows that gifts like sexuality are good, and he makes no argument. To do so would be futile. Instead, as in his dialogue with Eve in the garden, he twists God’s intention of the good, and deceives us. He says, “Yes, it is good – and you can have it all now, in any way you please!”
The enemy takes what is good, twists it into the ugliness of sin, and continues to portray it as good – and he feeds it to us. For the most part, we eat it up.
At the heart of sin, I think, is our propensity to separate the gift from the Giver. We take the gift, and seek to derive ultimate satisfaction from it for its own sake. Rather than using God’s gifts as a means of enjoying Him more fully, we attempt to gain ultimate enjoyment from the gifts in and of themselves.
The drug ecstasy is so popular because it puts a ‘turbo’ on the glands that produce endorphins, resulting in an exaggerated sense of wellbeing. But if you use it too much, you wear out those glands and your body can no longer produce endorphins even at a regular level. Users find they must take more and more ecstasy to achieve the ‘high’ they are looking for, and eventually the drug brings them only to neutral.
Sin is putting a ‘turbo’ on God’s good gifts. We eventually wear them out and they no longer produce the level of satisfaction they were designed for.
Use sexuality incorrectly, and you will find that before too long, it will no longer give you the satisfaction you crave. You will continually pursue new ways to get your fix, and none of them will give you what you are looking for.
Eat too much of the wrong foods, and you will find that before too long, it ceases to satisfy and you will end up eating more and more, and still failing to scratch that itch.
God has given us beautiful gifts as avenues to enjoy Him, and when we restrict their use to that end, we find them satisfying because they point us to a God who loves us. They are His means of bringing us to Himself.
Sin is rejection of God’s generosity. Like a small child at Christmas, we gleefully unwrap the gift, immediately cast it aside, and play instead with the pretty paper God chose to wrap Himself in. Did you catch that? Yes, the real gift at the heart of everything He has given us, is Himself.
Sin then, is the rejection of God’s gift of Himself. Is it any wonder He hates it so much?