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The Sin Problem

July 12, AD2017

frustration, anger, confusion, sadness, alone

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

Five Man Electric Band- Signs, 1970

For many, many Catholics (and non-Catholic Christians) the lyrics above sum up their experience in the Church.  For many, Christianity looks like one big, fat rule book.  “You can do this, but not that!”  “No, that is a sin.”  “Go to Mass on Sunday.”  “Sit, stand, kneel, respond, be quiet.”  It seems like there is a rule for everything!  The proposition of using Christianity as a sin management program has been thoroughly explored, and found to be a staggering failure.

Truth is Always Truth

One of the fundamental tenets of Christianity is the ever-present call to repentance.  The prophets of the Old Testament called the people to repent from their sins.  Jonah preached repentance to the people of Ninevah.  John the Baptist preached repentance.  Jesus was clear about the rejection of sin and the need for repentance.  

If one is called to repent, that means they are called to repent from ‘something’.  Sin is a real thing.  It is a reality.  Sin is dangerous to our souls.  The truth of what Jesus and His Church have taught us across the centuries is as relevant today as it was yesterday.  Yet, how do we reconcile this truth with all of these ‘rules’.  The endless lists of rules seem to be designed to make us behave well, to be a “good boy” or a “good girl” (no matter our age in years).

Not a Cosmic Cop

The objective of Christianity is not to help people manage their sinful behavior.  That is a mindset connected to a belief about God as a stern judge who is looking for the opportunity to pronounce us guilty of some infraction and condemn us for it.  Unfortunately, for many of us, this is the concept of God we grew up hearing.  It’s not uncommon for people to recall their parents saying things like, “God is always watching.”  

If God is not a ‘cosmic cop’, then who is He?  Trinitarian theology tells us that God is three persons in one God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  So, God is “Father”.  He is a good and faithful Father, who loves His children.  He is not a tyrant.  He is a Father who cares for His children, and everything He does is in their best interest.  

St. John Paul II stated, “The source of all brokenness in the world is the loss of fatherhood that occurred at the fall.”  Adam and Eve’s original sin was a rejection of God’s fatherhood and a mistrust in His goodness.  Satan’s deception undermined the belief that God was really looking out for them as a good and loving father.

The Dead Problem

The Church and the world do not have a sin problem.  They have a ‘dead’ problem.  Sin, by its very nature, brings about death.  Sin restricts and cuts off life.  Sin does not bring freedom, but captivity.  Very few people would look at a drug addict or alcoholic and think, “That choice ended well.”  Any addiction or compulsion restricts a person’s authentic freedom to choose ‘good’.  

Sin’s purpose is to kill the intrinsically good nature within every person.  As man is ‘made in the image and likeness of God’, sin’s objective is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10) the reflection of God in every human person.  Sin, in a very real sense, is a weapon of war, employed by an enemy to destroy God’s image in the world.  

Reject Sin to Find Life

St. Catherine of Sienna wrote, “Become who you ought to be, and you will set the whole world on fire!”  This great saint understood that sin is actually contrary to what it means to be fully and authentically free and human.  She understood that sin is a diminishment of the self.  Sin makes a person ‘less’ than who they really are.  No parents would tell their child, “You have all the potential in the world, but I really want you to be a failure.”  Instead, they want their children to live to the fullness of their potential, to follow their dreams and succeed.

When we reject sin, we embrace life, true goodness, authentic freedom.  St. Irenaeus said it this way, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”  When we embrace the fullness of who we are, God’s glory shines the brightest.  Sin makes us less than who we are.  In the movie The Lion King, Simba, the lion cub, encounters his deceased father, Mufassah in a mystically prophetic scene.  Mufassah tells Simba, “You are more than you have become.”  He goes on to exhort Simba to “remember” who he really is.

The rejection of sin is the rejection of slavery, the casting off of shackles and hindrances.  To reject sin is to battle for fullness and completeness.  Sin is never a friend.  It is never freedom.  It is always death.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Ken is the Executive Director for the John Paul II Healing Center, based in Tallahassee, FL. He is a frequent speaker at Center events and his extensive ministry experience includes teaching apologetics, retreat presenter and volunteer youth ministry. Ken holds a Bachelors in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling, both from St. Louis University. Ken has been married for more than 25 years to his wife Sharon. They have two children.

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  • adam aquinas

    Poppycock…..I work many hours of the day with children and adults with severe disabilities, disabled from birth who are immobile, non-verbal and bedridden and man of whom are dependent upon machines for life support. These pure human beings are INCAPABLE of sin and have no need to repent for anything. Sure there are plenty of people who commit venial and mortal sins, some are absolutely incapable of either …. they are not a few exceptional individuals, they are legion.
    Ans please no original sin stuff cast upon severely disabled: John 9:1-3 “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” So our first parents sin cannot be passed on to be atoned for……

    • Howard

      You make multiple mistakes here. First of all, there is a distinction between personal sin and original sin. Young children are unable to commit personal sins, and a very small number of people (at least St. John the Baptist and probably St. Joseph) were able to but did not. Original sin is not the same thing as personal sin; they are so different that the Eastern Orthodox refuse to call it by that name, although their understanding of the reality is basically the same as that of Catholics.

      [EDIT: I forgot to include a link to the Catechism.]

      404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man”. By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act.

      405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

      Secondly, your passage does not prove what you think it does. “I was not THAT this man sinned” does not mean that he did not sin, only that his blindness was not the result of any sin of his.

  • BXVI

    Here’s the thing. We need to quit running away from the fact that the Church has rules. The “too many rules” excuse has become a meme. It is an answer people give when asked why they leave the faith, but the reality is something different. The reality is, they chafe at the fact that there ANY rules. Because they want to remain in charge and not submit to God.

    I am quite sure that if all the rules of the Church were eliminated except the Sunday obligation, these folks would still rebel against that one rule. Because the existence of any rule means they are not in charge and they cant just to do whatever they want and be affirmed. They have become hard-hearted and stiff-necked. I think it’s time to call people out on this. What we need is a call to fidelity, and an insistence that folks follow the rules.

    • Howard

      Are you suggesting that if all the rules were eliminated except “don’t eat the fruit of this one tree”, people would still do it?

  • Dom C

    Good points, Ken. Even venial sin blocks some of the graces available to us – like spiritual arteries getting slightly clogged but not enough for the big one – and can bring us closer to mortal sin. As well, when we realize the wonderful, loving relationship Jesus offers us, we don’t want to sin, out of recognition of respect for Him who loves us so much. Thanks for this food for thought!