[The Heretic] I’m still struggling with the idea of Sin. I’m still too steeped in the Augustinian idea of Original Sin that condemned me before I was born and the Evangelical idea that sin makes me so disgusting to God that he can’t look at me without the Jesus sunglasses. I don’t accept that those ideas are correct any longer and I am coming to see that there are some other much healthier ways of defining sin (thanks for all your blogging on Orthodoxy) but there is still that knee-jerk self-hatred when I see the word sin or try to request mercy for myself. Sigh.
[Scott replies] I can empathize. I long struggled trying to grasp what Christianity really meant by that word, though for very different reasons. I did keep hearing explanations like the ones you mentioned, but since I was an adult without any real predisposition to accept them, they mostly got the Spock raised eyebrow reaction from me. (Internally, that is. My life has conditioned me to be able to smile and nod pleasantly even if I believe you’re completely off your rocker.) I also intuitively distrust an approach that basically says that before you can be a Christian, you first have to somehow feel bad about yourself. It can be effective, since most of us have done things over the course of our lives about which we feel badly, but it’s manipulative and paints God in a bad light.
Almost everyone in any tradition will tell you that the Christian concept of ‘sin’ is most closely tied to the idea of missing the mark. Most people, however, don’t even notice that the statement begs the question: What’s the mark? For Christians, the ‘mark’ is, of course, love of God and others (which is one thing, not two separate things) and union with Christ. So when we miss the mark, we fail to love as human beings should and we try to distance ourselves from God.
When we repent, then, we keep turning back to God and we keep trying to love. But we’re not good at it and we usually get ourselves and others all twisted up and damaged. So when we pray for mercy, we are asking for help and healing. God offers both in overflowing abundance. He gives us himself (or as much of him as we can bear) to help us.
The Jesus Prayer, in particular, simply asks for mercy because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t actually know what sort of help we need most of the time. In fact, we sometimes don’t want the help we truly do need. Sometimes we’re afraid of being healed. We are often impatient, but God’s not in a rush. I try to remember that fact.
(reposted fromthe-jesus-prayer-18-repentance with permission)