If you’ve made it past the title then bully for you. Sin is a messy topic, full of disagreements and contradictions and diametrically opposed perspectives. In short, it’s not the type of thing I’d usually address in this forum. But last Sunday as I sat in church and listened to the sermon the priest said something that caught my attention:
The dominion of sin isn’t the act, it’s the ego. It’s the wanting to be first.
He conceded that murder and adultery and all of the despicable acts we associate with sin are indeed horrific examples of it. But he posited that the sin starts much earlier. The sin begins when a person places himself above other people. I was fascinated because this had never occurred to me.
I started thinking about sins of all stripes and as I thought through the list of some more garden variety sins I was amazed at how well the priest’s position held up.
- If I am a bully it is because I care more about feeling big than I do about whether or not you feel scared or threatened.
- If I am materialistic it is because I care more about presenting a certain image than I do about being a certain kind of person.
- If I am judgmental it is because I care more about finding myself superior than I do about exhibiting compassion or tolerance.
- If I am selfish it is because I care more about myself than I do about the people affected by me.
I’m sure the list is endless.
And as I thought through these various sins, some of which I myself am guilty, I was struck by one thing. Putting yourself first in all of these situations is almost always a byproduct of insecurity. Put another way, not sinning requires and incredible amount of confidence.
When I feel confident in myself I don’t need to bully. I don’t need appearances to feel good about myself. I don’t need to make snide remarks about other people to inflate my own sense of self. And I don’t want to put myself first if I know that it will negatively affect another person. When I feel confident I am more patient, forgiving, substantive, and empathic.
The rub here? Confidence is a hugely difficult thing to develop. It takes years of cultivation. Each person requires a different concert of people and experiences and reactions for its care and feeding. But like a house of cards, it can collapse in an instant.
Yet churches do precious little to cultivate our confidence in ourselves. As Christians we are taught to have confidence in God; confidence in His omnipotence and benevolence; confidence in His love and forgiveness; confidence in Him to guide us and save us. And I know that this kind of confidence in God can also lead us to lives of less sin. (I don’t believe anyone lives a sinless life.) But I wonder if churches aren’t missing the boat a bit. Would more sin be eliminated if people had confidence in themselves? And further still, if more sin is eliminated by fostering confidence in oneself than in God which approach should churches take? Should it be their chief end to cultivate Christian belief throughout the world or to end sin in the world?
I’ve gone a bit far afield here. Clearly purpose of faith and the purpose of a church is an enormous topic that I actually do have the good sense not to opine about here. (Nevertheless, it’s an interesting question, isn’t it?)
The dominion of sin isn’t the act, it’s the ego. But the great irony here is that it’s when my ego is healthy that my sins are fewer.