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Death Hath No Sting

I used to think that sin was something that so wrecked my spiritual condition that I was born damned to hell. It was like life was this balance beam and on either side was a wall of razor blades. Just like in the original Tales from the Crypt there was a hungry dog waiting for me on the other side of this beam and I had to push my way through the razor blades of guilt. If I stumble I get the pain of God’s law on me to raise my awareness of my destitute depravity. That kind of punishment would then lead me back to God.

So I rejected sin altogether. My childhood was not exactly Ozzie & Harriet and I had seen and been through a lot of pain, even at a young age. The stress of living like a good Catholic and then Calvinist aware of my own depravity at all times was too much to bear. So of course I went the other direction. I rejected sin as a concept altogether. That also had its consequences. Without some means to identify what the good meant, some ground to raise my awareness of what was good, I was lost and hungry for something. Without sin defined, I felt empty because I didn’t know what was good anymore.

This is a different take on sin, but I get it:

Those who refuse to denounce sin are enablers of sin and partners in perversion. They are the same sort of people who watch a drunk walking down a railroad track with a train bearing down on him and do nothing to get him out of the way or to show him the way to safety. They love silence and they love acquiescence to sin because they hate the people around them and don’t care if they’re damned or not.
via The Denunciation of Sin Isn’t ‘Judging’, or ‘Gossip’, It’s Love « Zwinglius Redivivus.

I no longer look at myself as some totally depraved person completely unable to choose anything good at all. Before I even chose God, before I was even born, the work of grace was already done. From the moment I was born life has been a journey learning how to respond to that gift. The only question has been how?

The answer came in the Church Fathers and Mothers. These are some of the earliest Christians and founders of the Church which were, for the most part, glossed over in my own theological training as a Protestant. There we find sin as a sickness from which we ought to be healed, not the breaking of a law that requires punishment. As St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote:

But human nature, which fell sick through the disobedience of Adam, now became glorious in Christ through His utter obedience. For it is written that as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous (cf. Rom. 5:19). In Adam it suffered the penalty: ‘You are earth and to earth you shall return’ (Gen. 3:19). In Christ it was enriched by being able to overcome the snares of death and, as it were, exult in triumph over decay, repeating the prophetic text, ‘O death, where is your victory? O Hades, where is your sting’ (Hos. 13:14 LXX; I Cor. 15:55)? It came under a curse, as I have said, but this too was abolished in Christ. And indeed it has been said somewhere to the Holy Virgin, when Elizabeth prophesied in the Spirit, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb’ (Lk. 1:42). Sin has reigned over us and the inventor and father of sin has lorded it over all who dwell under the sky, provoking the transgression of the divine laws. But in Christ we see human nature, as if experiencing a new beginning of the human race, enjoying freedom of access to God. For He said clearly, ‘the ruler of this world is coming and he has no power over Me’ (Jn. 14:30).”

I understood what feeling sick was. I understood that people can be very sick and have no sense of wholeness in their lives. I watched people in that condition shrivel before me. I was one of them; hollow to my own sense of self. Sin is a chronic condition of the soul where my sense of God gets so dulled that I miss where He is. I lose sight of the medicine I need to be whole. It requires a lifetime of managing my illness to be healthy which is directly proportional to my distance from God. Spiritual discipline in the Church continually directs me to that healing if I want it.

That is a condition and a solution I can live with.

About Andrew Tatusko

I do: faculty development at penn state | I study: higher education and religion | I dig: music | I'm politically: leftist | I'm not: the doc on celebrity rehab

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