One of the things that bothered me about the typical definition of sin in Christianity is the focus on actions and eternal law.
“Law” is a metaphor. God doesn’t have laws any more than our legal system has a “spirit”.
But it’s a strong metaphor because what we call “law” stands like a guide and a container for our actions and choices.
Perhaps you could say that human law, justice, judgement and punishment are a reflection of this divine thing that is properly nameless and wordless but must be translated into human terms if we are to talk about it.
Sin as action
Sometimes we do things that we know (or come to learn) are wrong, and we struggle with our own conscience over them. In fact moral theology has many caveats to this basic dynamic that include the formation or malformation of the conscience, the broader context of culpability, and so on.
A good judge takes into account all kinds of extenuating and aggravating circumstances.
But sin itself never really spoke to me in this context of action and law and judgement.
Sin as state
I’ve been thinking about it lately because someone asked me a question regarding sin, confession, and the problem of psychogenic illness and temperament.
I suspect the problem is that long-term anxiety and depression, and the temperament that predisposes me to these states, deny me any clear sense of the path before me, or that the root cause of my problems is ultimately my own transgressive actions.
If you can see the path, then yes you will know when you’ve deviated from it.
But if you can’t see the path, then being told that your actions are the root cause of your suffering is about as helpful as being blamed for being lost in a fog.
That’s not to say that I lack a sense of actions that are transgressive or immoral. Rather, the root cause of my suffering in life was not obviously related to any particular action or disposition.
It’s as if everyone was saying “just stay on the path and you’ll be fine. And even if you step off the path, you can return because God is forgiving”. Meanwhile I’m nodding politely while wondering where this path is exactly.
Finding the path
I think my temperament, and my Feeling function in particular, conceives of the world in a different way.
That’s probably why I was drawn to Eastern religions in my youth. Dharma is basically the same as Eternal Law, and the Dao is basically the way, but each has a richer, more substantial context in relation to the divine. Not that Christianity is really any different, it’s just a question of emphasis:
Do you emphasise God as judge and divine legislator? Or do you emphasise God as the path, the “way” itself, the outer boundaries of which are roughly marked with moral warnings?
Before I learned any Christian philosophy or theology, it seemed obvious to me that the moral law was the outermost perimeter of a deeper spiritual reality. Clinging to the moral law was like going to a beautiful mansion in the hills, and then stopping just inside the fence.
Yes, if you want to live in God’s house you can’t go outside the fence, but why on earth would you? Do you sit comfortably in a friend’s living room, loving their company, yet continually fretting that you might any moment fall off the edge of their property?
I think a lot of this goes unsaid in people’s personal relationship with God. People yearn to feel connected to God somehow, and that’s what is really important.
And some types or temperaments are completely fine with the idea that their actions help or hinder this relationship, and that confession or asking for and receiving forgiveness is the best way to remedy that relationship.
For these people, it makes sense to promote concepts of sinful action, eternal law, and forgiveness as the core dynamic of God’s interaction with the world.
But if you’re lost and living in a fog, it might be due to a number of factors that don’t necessarily fall under the standard definition of sin.
It might be the result of other people’s sins. Or it could be a kind of sin that isn’t commonly known or understood.
From a melancholic/introverted-Feeling perspective, there’s not much point trying to confess a Feeling. Yet this strong Feeling function so overshadows everything else that it not only blots out our sense of the divine, not to mention happiness, but it also obscures our own role in giving rise to this obstacle.
That’s what gave me this intense thirst for understanding. The hope of understanding my condition brought knowledge, insight, wisdom, to the fore rather than moral uprightness, sin, or forgiveness.
A person lost in a fog doesn’t need forgiveness, they need clarity. They need to know the lay of the land so they can stop falling into holes. They need a light, and in that light they can find the path.