Sin is a loaded word for us Christians. There’s sin and then there is the doctrine of Original Sin and centuries of people being beaten over the head for their “sins.” What is sin? And why does it figure so prominently in our Christian consciousness?
The verb in Hebrew, hata, that is used throughout the Old Testament for sin is translated, to “sin, do wrong, miss the way,” sometimes with the connotation of an offering to purify oneself from sin. Further, “to sin, to willfully act contrary to the will and law of God, is a figure of missing or moving from a standard or mark.” Sin, then in the Hebrew Bible, is to not do the will of God, a willful or inadvertent offense particularly against the Ten Commandments and the laws of the Torah.
In the New Testament hamartia, the Greek word most frequently translated sin, means “sin, wrongdoing, usually any act contrary to the will and law of God.” Another Greek word is frequently used as well, paraptoma, which is a noun meaning trespass, transgression, sin against, to sin as a moral failure. In its verb form, pararreo, it also means to drift away, to flow past, to slip away.”
In both the Hebrew and Greek words to sin is to break God’s law, but there are also the connotations of those acts being both deliberate and inadvertent ones. If I put these meanings together with God granting mankind free will, I can only conclude that our All-knowing God knew that men and women would sin and would stray from the Commandments.
I think that God wants us to come to him willingly and he is willing for us to make the choices that would either deny him or worship him and everything in between those two. Otherwise he would have not given us free will, he would have made sure to design us to be obedient all the time, like most animals not able to stray from their nature.
We were given the choice, the ability to be obedient if we want or to be disobedient if we don’t. Sometimes, too, we actually are unaware of breaking God’s laws. Whatever we do that pulls away from God’s laws or from God himself is sin. In the case of the Prodigal Son[Luke 15:11ff], he returned to his father’s house probably filled with guilt and shame, but his return was anticipated and celebrated. And his inheritance as one of his father’s children was restored, even though he had wasted the first gift of inheritance.
Just a note here about free will: it is not a license to go and do what you want when you want to without cost. There is a price we pay for turning our backs on God, for breaking his laws, for putting ourselves first. And the price is this—there is no sense of security or love or home for us. There is no fulfillment in anything we do. If the person’s sins are egregious, there is paranoia, living on the run or always looking over one’s shoulder lest he or she be caught. There is no peace or love, only alienation.
This parable of the Prodigal or Wasteful or Lost Son(different translations) gives us huge clues as to how God regards our sins and wastefulness and even rebellion. He keeps an eye out for the son’s return; he celebrates his return; he restores his inheritance. His love is enduring despite what the wayward son did with his life. The father offered no criticism or judgment of what the son did. And once the Prodigal Son and we, by extension, turn towards him, in other words, turn our backs on the ways of the world and embrace his ways, he restores our full inheritance to us.
And where is the punishment, the guilt and shame to be heaped onto us by God because of our bad choices? Non-existent. We have already suffered in making those choices. What we gain by “repenting” our sins once we have forgiven ourselves is the opposite of the costs of free will: we have a true home, we are at peace, we are secure in God’s arms. We find purpose and fulfillment in our lives.
To me God created us knowing full well that we would fall short of our divine potential, that we would knowingly and unknowingly break his laws, that we would stray far and wide. Just look at the nature of the world that humans have created on Earth to see how much trouble we get into all by ourselves.
Once we do that180 degree turn from the world’s ways back to God and his ways, however, we are restored to his arms, to our inheritance. Phew!…. Thanks be to God!
There is nothing in the Bible that speaks of Original Sin, although I believe that the concept was taken from Genesis’ story of the Garden of Eden(and Paul’s interpretations of the story in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) in which Eve, prodded by the snake, took a bite of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and then tempted Adam to do the same; and they were thrown out of the Garden. Iranaeus, bishop of Lyons was the first to mention original sin in the 2nd century AD, but it was Augustine who lived at the end of the 4th and into the 5th Centuries AD who established the doctrine of Original Sin in the church.
Let’s look at this story with fresh eyes. When Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden, they lived as one with the Father. Although God was a distinct presence in the garden, Adam and Eve never felt separate from him. We could call this garden of Eden heaven where we are never separate from God. And, even though, God told the pair not to eat of that tree, they did. They exercised their free will. And thereby separated themselves from God. And were subsequently thrown out of the garden.
Thus they started their Earthly journey, Eve with the pain of childbirth ahead of her, Adam with the task of gathering/growing their food. Now they were separate from God. As the story of the development of the human race goes on in Genesis from the Garden of Eden story, one of their sons kills the other. And, as Genesis continues, the Earth becomes more and more filled with evil.
And certainly this is what we see in the world today: people and nations acting from their own self-interest, undercutting other populations and nations. This is the way the world works and has worked since the beginning of our species here. The task that God has given us in our free will is to come to him of our own volition once we have seen the error of our ways. It is to be our choice, our preference, our will that we rejoin with God so that we might enjoy the pleasures of the garden and to fulfill the promise of our creation and to work with him, co-creating an alternative to the world’s ways, his kingdom.
But so often when we talk of sin we mean original sin, we’re talking punitively, anticipating God’s punishment for our “wicked” ways. But I don’t think that God thinks of us in this way at all. He holds out hope that we will see his invitations, his calls, latch onto his desire for our lives, come to enjoy his presence, and eventually come to live in his kingdom. He wants us to come to him willingly. He doesn’t coerce us; he doesn’t throw us into jail until we comply with his will for us. He holds out invitations, suggestions, “still, small voice” mutterings that would bring us back to him, if we would only follow his suggestions and love.
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son the “good” son has been at his father’s side all along, but he has not reaped any of the benefits of the father’s presence. He is looked at a little sadly by the father. He’s been here all along and yet has not participated in the “good news” of the kingdom. He’s been too concerned about following all the rules to look at his father with love or to know his father’s love. He has not been a part of the kingdom of God.
We can participate in the kingdom while we are here on Earth as long as we seek a deep relationship, full of trust of God and love for God. But the kingdom is not a perfect place for perfect people, it is not the Garden of Eden; it is a place for the whole people of God, the ones with the deep relationship to the Father, the ones who have been gifted with the fruit of the Spirit because of the depth of their relationship with God. In the kingdom there is promise and challenge, suffering and joy. It’s a place where every single person is the equal of every other one, where all gifts are counted the same, where only Christ stands above everyone else.
This, I believe is the highest we can achieve here on Earth: a totally trusting relationship with God, a co-creative one, in which we are endowed with the fruit of the Spirit which defines love in all its attributes. This is a huge sea change for us as I wrote a few weeks back, but it brings a wonderful freedom to our lives to be the whole people of God, who can love God with their whole selves, who can love their neighbors and who can embrace everything about themselves—the good, the bad and the ugly!
Then, I believe, when we transition through dying to birth into a new world, we, the deeply committed people of God, land back in Eden. We have not only survived the time on Earth to thrive in his arms, but have found our way back to our Source and been able to express our deepest selves, our created potential. And there in Eden once again we enjoy being at one with the Father.
This summer I will publish a book about the kingdom of God and the YouTube videos I post starting with the June one will be about the kingdom. The kingdom of God was the theme of Jesus’ teachings. I hope you will join me in celebrating the kingdom as a reality in our lives and to embrace the goal of living in the kingdom and making it visible to others while we are still on Earth.
Watch for the announcement here that Thy Kingdom Come on Earth! Is now for sale probably by mid-August.
Questions to ponder over the week: How do I think of sin/original sin? How do I see God responding to sin? Do I reject my human nature or embrace it? Am I willing to love myself just as I am?
Blessing for this week: May we turn/repent from the world’s ways to God’s ways, do that 180 degree turn. May we be embraced by God and our return celebrated. May our inheritance as children of God be restored. In faith and love, Pat
If you’d like to see more of By the Waters, check these out:
–There’s a new video up on YouTube: “A description of the kingdom of God” ”youtube.com/user/patsadams
–Check out my twitter feed at twitter.com/BTWwithPatAdams
–Check out the “Shop Now” at the top of this page which links to a CD of guided meditations and a series of booklets on the Life of the Spirit.
If you’d like to read the blog in its entirety, go to bythewaters.net/blog.html.
 Edward W. Goodrick & John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI,1999, Strong’s #’s2628-2633, p. 2522
 Ibid, p. 223, Strong’s # 281
 Ibid, p. 4138, Stong’s #’s 4183 & 4184.