Friday, December 21, 2012

The Problem is Sin

With the recent tragic school shooting last week in Connecticut, the national conversation is again turned to the violence imposed by others upon “the innocent” and what can be done to stop such violent events. I’ve been struggling with what to offer the followers of Be Transfigured! but I keep coming up with “The Problem is Sin.”

You might be saying, “Of course, why state the obvious?” but I’m not sure we really know what these simple four words mean. Maybe I should say the problem is “How we talk about sin.” I think that better characterizes what I’m feeling in past few days since the tragedy in Sandy Hook Elementary School. The fact that we all feel the need to declare it a tragedy in the first place I think expresses what I mean about “how we talk about sin.” When can a shooting, school or otherwise, ever not be tragedy?

Saint Paul said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3.23) and yet we are constantly attempting to characterize one sin as greater than another. If all fall short, then all sin falls short, shooting or otherwise. All sin becomes a tragedy that must be overcome by spiritual warfare. War on guns, war on drugs, war on poverty….what we need is a war on sin.

Again Saint Paul says,
For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7.19-25

If we can embrace this understanding of sin, then we see that the school shooting is no more a tragedy than the countless abortions in the world, or domestic violence, or starving children, or hefty bank accounts, or oversized houses, or divorce, or sexual promiscuity, or jealousy, greed, anger, lust…Saint Paul says it better than I can…
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man -- and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1.20-32

But thanks be to God! Christmas is not simply a fun-filled, tree-decorated, present-wrapping, snow-covered (except in the South) holiday. Saint John Chrysostom characterized Christmas as the capital of feasts. All other Feasts of the Lord – Epiphany, Transfiguration, Passion, the Resurrection, and Ascension – all follow Christmas. Without Christmas there would have been no resurrection. And as Saint Paul says, “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” 1 Corinthians 15.14

This year at Christmas, I invite you to reflect upon the tragedies around you, and don’t stop at the obvious ones, and turn your hearts toward God and have faith in Him. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5.1-5

You see, until we can see sin for what it is, we will never succeed in eliminating tragedies such as the Sandy Hook shooting from our nightly news casts. Until we can see that our hearts must turn toward God, we will never succeed in realizing that there were actually 28 who lost their lives in the tragedy. Unless we turn our hearts toward God, we will never realize that we are no lesser sinner than any murder. Either all fall for short or not. Either all need the reality of Christmas or not. If not all…..who?

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