“Both we and our ancestors have sinned; we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.” – Psalm 106:6
I was once giving a series of lectures to a wonderfully engaged group. It was clear that what I was saying was resonating as heads nodded and notes were taken. And then one day, I talked about sin, and the mood changed.
“It’s so negative.”
“Can’t we use another word for it?”
“Saying that people sin sounds so, well, judgmental.”
No one likes to talk about sin. Especially in the progressive church. We talk instead about making a mistake, or the wrong life choices. But we get squeamish when we are asked to call something, even if it’s own own action, sinful.
I get why. Judgmental Christians have given us all a bad name. But on the other hand, there is a freedom in being able to admit that sometimes we are imperfect, sometimes we fall short, and sometimes we do not act the way God would have us act.
The greatest theological work of our time, which is of course the Harry Potter series, taught us that “fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself.” Sure, Hermione was talking about Voldemort there, but the same thing applies to sin. If we get too afraid to even speak its name, it holds a certain fearful power over us.
And so, I say this freely: I’m a sinner. And so are you. And so are we all. Because none of us is perfect, and none of us always gets it right.
In the end sin is just shorthand for saying that sometimes our will and actions are not in full alignment with God’s. But the good news is that God gives us the grace to know that, and the will to want to change that. For that, I am thankful.
God, I know that I don’t get it right sometimes. But I’m trying. Help me to never be too afraid to admit that. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is Senior Pastor of The Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire.