No word in Christian theology generates more negative reaction than the word “sin.” Understandably so. At times, well-meaning or not-so-well-meaning people have used this term as a spear, stabbing it into the cracks of broken lives around them. Other times, especially now, many have pronounced this expression anathema, banishing it from all conversation.
But what is it?
To answer that question, we have to wrestle with an even deeper and more important topic: What does it mean to be human?
In short, to be human is to be created, desired, dependent, and not God.
Unfurling humanness even more, we can look to Genesis 1-2 and Psalm 8. Here we find that although humanity is part of the created order, there is “specialness” to humankind. Out of all created beings, only humanity is made in the image of God (imago Dei), which carries with it two very special and unique abilities: “respondability” and “responsibility.”
By “respondability” I mean that you and I can respond to God’s invitational self-disclosure in a way that no other creature can. By “responsibility” I mean that you and I are the only ones whom God calls to steward his creation and our relationships within it in line with his plans and purposes.
So what is sin?
Simply put, if to be human is to be created, desired, dependent, and not God, then sin, in contrast, is the desire to be God and the refusal to be human.
When we respond to God’s open hand of invitation with a clenched fist and a resounding “No!” we have refused to be as we were created to be. We have refused to be human.
When we destroy the environment, not only have we lost sight of God’s plan for creation, we have eschewed responsibility and refused to be as we were created to be. We have refused to be human.
When we violate the special worth and dignity of another person, we have abandoned the call to re-image God’s unlimited love through caring for one another, and thus have refused to be as we were created to be. We have refused to be human.
This is sin. Sin is not “breaking the rules.” It has a far deeper definition having to do with a fundamental disorder. It infects the very core of our being. It deeply wounds our imago Dei. It perverts the goodness of God’s creation. It destroys community with God, with each other, and with creation. It is plainly and simply the refusal to be as we were created to be – human.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Thank you to authors and theologians Gabriel Fackre for the term “respondability” and James Houston for the phrase “the refusal to be human.”