So my own question about sin, reconciliation and forgiveness/absolution sent me back to my bible and to the BCP and its commentaries. I forget too often that a lot of people have spent a lot of time chewing on these existential challenges and how we embrace this deep-set need for reconciliation when we wound/depart from relationship with God and with our fellow created ones.
Here's a challenge: is it possible to set aside the idea that sin is completely founded in a performance/success model of either "hitting" or "missing" the mark? I realize that the concept of sin in the NT is closely linked to "hamartia" (no greek letters in this messaging window!) and ties idiomatically to missing what we are aiming at (e.g. archery or throwing a stone at a target). For us in the modern/contemporary context, so much of our daily lives ties into being successful/productive and being able to demonstrate control/skill/material benefit from our actions that I fear we have lost something essential in moving from sin (whatever it is) into reconciliation (whatever that is).
When I jumped into the resources from the Episcopal tradition, I found some good stuff-our catechism (yes, we have one!) identifies sin as "the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, this distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation."
I guess I get hung up on that concept of distortion. Frankly, that is what I see a lot of in today's society...and something that is very strong in the Church as well. We take something "good" and "righteous" and twist it around, projecting values and definitions on ideas, actions, motivations...even people themselves...in order to justify ourselves in what we wish to hold fast to-the distorted ideas I talked about above. Being "good" gets tied to material success, the ability to control others through the exercise of power, the talent to control social discourse in order to obtain personal advatnage, etc. We get so bound up in what we know/want to be right that we wind up taking God, the Church and our neighbors (as well as ourselves) along for the ride.
The catechism continues and identifies that sin's power over is is made manifest in a loss of liberty. When sin dominates our lives, we lose the freedom/will/grace/peace that God first tendered to us in creation. Repentance, and reconciliation are the actions we take that for our part open our souls to being connected to redemption all over again-as if for the first time. That is the redemption that Christ offers in his presence-the restoration of us from sin into freedom. That freedom is life lived in alignment/harmony with God.
Speaking to your reaction to people who chose to see sin in the actions and even in the being of others: for me, that behavior is sinful in and of itself when we view it in light of what I offered up above. "Who am I to throw the first stone?" is an easy answer for them. "Me." They see and judge the being and behaviors of others and then act out of that certainty, seeking to condemn and control. Thing is, that is just a dialing up (can you say "our amplifiers go to eleven!"?) of the volume on an ethical plan of action we engage almost every moment of our waking lives. When someone cuts me off while I am driving, I get angry and curse them; but again and again my wife faithfully points to the person I just cut off and reminds me that those things which upset me are the very things I do in turn to my fellow human beings. It might be tempting to take this into an ethical relativism. "You keep your stuff in your yard, I'll keep mine in mine;" but I don't think that is the answer, either. Fences simply can't be built high enough, can they, under that construct?
The middle way keeps us accountable to each other and to God. Recognizing our sinfulness (seeking our own will instead of the will of God), is the first step in allowing God to knock some sense into our thick heads. Seeking reconciliation, either in the formal sacramental rites or in a willingness to live a life under the discipline of the Gospel of Christ, is the first response-and the first fruits-of knowing that real truth lies beyond and outside of us. It is being willing to admit that we don't know it all, and that the world and other people aren't just there to serve our interests. We are here to love and serve each other.
I think the greatest sin in our society is something we define as a great virtue, "Look at her/him, she/he is a self-made woman/man!" Can we really create ourselves? Some think so...I think so from time to time, usually when I am at my worst, thinking I am at my best!
Reconciliation restores balance, because it engenders in us as individuals humility, patience and expectation/anticipation of God's grace in our lives. It also reorients our intent-the posture we use to enter into life.
I confess to you that I have been working on this ideal of reconciliation for a long time. There is a lot of brokenness in my life that is there as a result of both my own and other people's sinfulness. Conflicts over what is true, and how we are going to deal with that truth have dominated my life and ministry of late and these past months I have been wondering how to become reconciled once again to a lot of things. I desire reconciliation with my loved ones and friends. I seek reconciliation with my priesthood, which has taken some serious hits. I hope for the will to seek reconciliation with folks I have been in conflict with in the past. There is a lot to atone for in my life...and a great deal of forgiveness I need to seek-both to offer up and to receive.
Still, as I walk this path, I realize that perhaps it is the core of our work as Christians. Both Baptism and Eucharist-Christ's dominical gifts to us-create an incumbent responsibility in us that we allow God's grace and redemptive will to flow through us into the world. Reconciliation lies at the core of that...whether it is in personal, corporate or meditative confession.... It is where the rubber hits the road!
Here's another question in our correspondence: In light of your thoughts about people who decry (and even oppress) people for their behavior/being-what is the Christian response?