Monday, July 09, 2012
Sin, Repentance, and Love
I've been thinking a lot about the concept of sin lately. Also, repentance. And of course, my favorite, love.
What is sin, exactly? There are things we do that aren't good, I know this. Some people even do very awful, unspeakable things to other people. But we are a muddled-up bunch, we human beings, each person a big tangle of genetics and brain structure and spirit and chemicals and diet and sleep and family background and traumatic events and personality quirks that mix and react and make each person susceptible to all kinds of serious mistake making.
I see choices as being right and wrong depending on how they affect other living things, especially other people. And I see other choices as being more conducive to happiness than others. But "sin" and "sinfulness" and "wickedness" are concepts that are strange to me. They don't seem useful to me-- in fact, they seem more like labels that separate us from ourselves, from each other, and from God. To be "sinful" or "wicked" means to be bad, filthy, unworthy of love. It is difficult to conceptualize positive change growing from such a burdensome concept, to imagine love and compassion springing from that idea.
I believe that all human beings contain a spark of divinity, a light that can be brightened or dimmed but never extinguished, though it can certainly be covered and hidden and dimmed by unkindness or cruelty, by addiction, by fear. That dimming or covering is the closest I can come to understanding the concept of "sin," which draws it more as a descent into sadness--or perhaps a loss of light-- but never a diminishing of the immutably divine nature of the individual.
Repentance is another idea that is difficult for me because it draws images of sackcloth and ashes and long, excruciating acts of self-flagellation and desperate prostration before an angry god. Repentance I prefer as the idea that change is always possible, as the promise that you can turn and go in a different direction. I like repentance as a thing of hope, not the screaming and crying of an oppressed subject begging for mercy.
I really dislike the thought of doing good because you hope to receive some sort of reward or avoid a punishment. You should do good because you love and because from your love springs a desire to bring happiness and light into the lives of the peoples whose lives touch yours. For this reason, I am not a big fan of the parable of the sheep and the goats, where Jesus divides people into two groups-- people who have been selfless and kind to others (sheep) and people who have been selfish and unkind (goats). Then he spitefully rejects the group of goats. He tells them, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels."
I dislike this scripture because (1) Isn't Jesus supposed to be patient? Wasn't he sent here to help us? Wasn't he sent to the sinner, to lift them out of their sorry states? What is he doing, so callously labeling and condemning people? Can't he cuddle the goats, and scratch behind their ears, and feed them a treat, and show them how to be kind? What is up with the burning? and (2) If is supposed to be motivational, then it's a craptastic kind of motivation. I think you're supposed to read this and then grab your jacket and head out the door to clothe the naked and feed the hungry and visit the imprisoned. But that puts a selfish twist on acts of kindness. It moves acts of love from, "I'm visiting you because I care about you" to "I'm visiting you -so I don't go to hell. You know those eternal fires...always a-burning!"
I've been thinking a lot about motivation for making moral choices since reading The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. People can choose to do the right thing for a variety of reasons, the primary ones being:
-Thought of consequences (positive and negative)
-Attempt to maintain self-concept ("I'm the sort of person who________")
-Concern about others' perceptions of yourself.
-Love (for self or others)
I would like to become the sort of person who almost always acts out of love. This will be tricky, because I don't want to be the sort of person who does nice things because she wants to be the sort of person who does things out of love, but rather because I really do just....love. This is my goal. To just love.
I love love.