Luther said, “Sin Boldly”

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)

One thought on “Luther said, “Sin Boldly”

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  1. I don’t know, Amy. I’ve been thinking all day about your last paragraph. What I keep thinking is that it’s easier to remember the wisdom written on your heart when you have food in your stomach. So I want to believe you’re right, that in this case Jesus would have been repulsed by Satan’s suggestions, but then I think of how hungry and stressed out Jesus must have been, and I wonder whether he might have been struggling a bit after all. I wonder if the struggle would have been more along the lines of whether the whole fast was stupid to begin with–which is how temptation usually appears for me–like, “There’s no good reason for me not to be eating right now. I could just make some bread right here, right now. So what’s the point of being hungry? This whole thing is stupid.”

    That said, I do love the idea of thinking in terms of wisdom, because you’re right: sin carries a lot of useless baggage, not least of which is shame, especially if it’s debilitating. I just wrote on Summer’s page that I never really think of sin/sinfullness as “bad” anymore. Rather, I think of it as a state of being outside of perfect communion with God. The thing I like about it is that thinking about sin that way encompasses both “original sin” and “sinful” acts and omissions without making me feel like I, personally, am damaged goods. At least not any more damaged than anyone else.

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