In these lessons, I notice an emphasis on sin: the tale of “forbidden fruit,” a praise for forgiving of sin, and Paul’s explanation of Jesus justifying humans from their sin-swirled state.
Honestly, I don’t think about sin very much. I don’t make daily choices through consideration of whether something is “sinful,” and I don’t try to be less sinful.
While I wouldn’t say that others shouldn’t do so, my own reason is that I am not able to separate the concept of sin — even as isolated actions or attitudes — from the person “sinning” being designated as not only possessing, but actually being that bad, ugly quality of sin: sin-full. To feel one’s very self to be sin-full is shaming, which is ultimately debilitating. I don’t think it brings out the best in people or helps them to grow or improve. It distorts human nature, which, especially if made in the image of God, cannot be so full of sin as to not contain goodness as well.
I do care a lot about right and wrong, but I find myself making daily choices and advising others according to the standard of wisdom. I don’t think, is this a sin? I think, is this wise? Or foolish? Where will it lead, to goodness or harm? I understand that for others, asking whether something is sin or not might mean the same thing and produce the same results, but for me, it feels a lot more healthful and beneficial to think in terms of wisdom.
There is a hefty chunk of biblical text devoted to wisdom. It occurs to me that in this week’s story about Jesus, he seems wise. Proverbs 26 contains two seemingly contradictory zingers: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him” (v. 4) and yet, then: “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes” (v. 5). Jesus, to me, manages to follow both proverbs here. Yes, he responds to the devil, and in kind, using scripture to correct him. But also, yes, he refuses to engage the devil. He turns down all his baiting. He shuts him down.
The scripture says that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Does that mean that Jesus actually felt tempted, as in, a desire for something bad, or that the devil was simply trying to tempt him? On the one hand, it is comforting to believe Jesus felt tempted, so that we don’t feel alone in our temptations (Heb. 4.15). But in this instance, I think that if Jesus was wise, deeply wise, he wouldn’t have felt tempted at all by the devil’s offerings. He would have been repulsed. He would know: “How much better to buy wisdom than gold, to choose insight rather than silver!” (Prov. 16.16)