It not very fashionable to talk about sin these days even from the pulpit, we like to think about love, but perhaps if we consider its opposite, namely, ‘sin’ we might understand love better. First it is important to be clear about what sin is. It is not the cause for wallowing in a guilty feeling.
Sin is separation, a gap, a disconnection, if you will, between God and us, between one person and another, between humanity (with its wants and needs) and the rest of creation.
I don't think we need to obsess about sin, just acknowledge that it is there, human beings get things wrong, it part of our condition. In our sin we put our Selves, our ego’s at the centre. I think that this Self centredness is at the heart of the matter.
The Self or the ego, (that part of me and you that aware of itself as being separate from everyone and everything else) is programmed to survive. It is not unnecessary, on its survival hangs the survival of the whole person but it can take over. To survive the Self will defend itself when attacked and because of the intellectual nature of the Self (its the bit of us that self consciously thinks about what it is and its place amongst everything else), attack often comes in the form of an accusation. “You are not good enough”; “Look what you have done.”
As argued above, it is in the nature of the Self to offer a defence. Claims of wrong doing whether true or false are perceived as forms of attack and they must be refuted if the Self is not to be injured. This defensive nature of the Self mitigates against an honest evaluation of our actions and their motives. In order to move beyond Self we must move beyond fear, for it is the fear of hurt that motivates defence. To get past feeling either fear or its opposite -Self satisfaction we have to acknowledge those emotions before moving on to look at the facts. Only then can we see where we have got things wrong as well as getting things right and return to the path which is right.
The opposite of sin is Love, not an emotion, but an active self giving. As Robert Barron, an American Catholic thinker says, ‘Love, is not a feeling or a sentiment. Not a private subjective conviction. Love is willing the good of the other, as other, meaning, love gets you out of this, sort of, black hole of your own subjectivity, your own egocentrism, [i.e. self centredness].
The Church identifies love, as I’ve been describing it, as a participation in God’s way of being. God who has no need, therefore God alone can truly want the good of the other for the sake of the other. God can operate in a totally non-selfinterested way. When we do that, when we are capable of that, it’s only because we’ve received an infusion of grace. We’ve received a participation in God’s own life”. ‘(1)
Jesus called his hearers to repent, this was not asking them to say sorry, it was calling them to return. To repent is to return to that which really is at the centre, God and God’s being which is love, and love is not about ‘me’ and ‘my’ wants its always about the other, which is why the Self programmed to look after number one, itself, finds it so difficult and why only can save us from our Selves.
Vicar’s thoughts for September 2016