“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.