Luke 5:20b (CEV)
… he said to the crippled man, “My friend, your sins are forgiven.”
I grew up in one of those churches that talked about sin like a list of offenses. Sins could be collected – something like trading cards. They could be ranked, numbered, categorized and alphabetized, and then put into those clear plastic pockets, like baseball cards, to look through over, and over and over again – to oogle over and even memorize. ‘Sins’ included smoking, drinking, gambling, sex outside of marriage, adultery, pornography, and definitely wearing skirts that came above the knee. But ‘sins’ could also be forgiven, and forgiveness was the thing that you were supposed to seek for. The problem in my childhood mind was how you were supposed to get a ‘forgiveness’ card if you didn’t have one of the ‘sin’ cards to trade in?
See, I was a goodie-two-shoes – a rule-follower. You told me not to swear, I didn’t swear. You told me to read my Bible, and I read it through five times before I finished high school. You told me to go to AWANA and memorize verses, and I had the book finished by February and all the fancy stickers for completing it through a second time by the time club was over at the beginning of May. Tell me don’t think about certain things, or hang out with certain people, or listen to certain music, or read certain books, and that was fine. That was just the rule, and I kept the rule, because I wanted God (and maybe my parents, teachers and other people at our church) to like me.
This cripple whose friend’s have taken him to see Jesus? In some ways I can relate to him. He’s spent a lot of his life being told he’s no good – that he’s worthless, that somebody ‘sinned’ (by which they meant ‘made God mad’) to make him be the way he is. We don’t know what was wrong with him, but he’s trapped on this mat. Maybe he’s a quadriplegic. Maybe he has cerebral palsy. Maybe along with not being able to use his limbs, he also can’t talk. We don’t know the details, but we do know that he’s spent a lot of his life lonely, unseen, and unknown. He hasn’t had the chance to go get into any trouble, because he can’t possibly get there without someone’s help.
At which point we have to start questioning this view of ‘sin’. Because Jesus wouldn’t tell him that his ‘sins’ are forgiven if he didn’t have any. And over in the book of John, Jesus makes it clear that being born with a disability doesn’t happen because people have made God mad, so it can’t be that, either.
The thing is, just because I didn’t have a bunch of ‘sin’ cards in my collection didn’t mean that I was clueless about pain and brokenness. I did know God’s world as it was never intended to be. The definition of sin that we use at Vox – life that exists outside of the way God intended for it to be lived – well I had experienced lots of that! But no one had told me that that was what ‘sin’ meant. They had told me everybody sinned, and that I needed Jesus to ‘cancel the debt of my sin’, but I couldn’t find my pain and my loneliness and my brokenness and my trauma anywhere on their lists. And even the mean, selfish, unpleasant things that I said and did were more complex and nuanced then the black and white ideas that I heard about at church. So instead of understanding that there was some way of dealing with all of this, I simply felt more and more ashamed. I came to assume that the love of God that I had heard about my entire life couldn’t possibly be for me.
And I know my view of sin, and the experiences I had as a kid aren’t the same as everyone else’s, but I think many of us have developed a faulty view of sin. And when we don’t understand sin, it makes it really hard to have the conversation we’re going to have tomorrow about forgiveness.
Because we can’t really understand what we’re being forgiven from if we don’t understand what sin is.Journal Questions:
Tomorrow we’ll talk about forgiveness.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about the way out.
There is hope for you, whatever your reality looks like.
- But for today I want to ask you, how do you understand the idea of sin?
- Does your understanding of sin leave you in the running for God to respond, or have you taken yourself out of contention somehow?
- Have you decided that your life has either been too good or too horrible for God to be willing to forgive?
- What do you think of the definition of sin that we use at Vox? Sin is living life outside of the way that God intended it to be lived.
- What would that definition change about how you perceived yourself?
- What would that change about how you perceived God?