Dear Christians is a recurring column that deals with my intersection between belief and nonbelief. It looks at my personal views of belief and deals with the myths of nonbelief that I was taught growing up. All opinions are, of course, my own. To see more Dear Christians columns, click here.
One of the most confusing aspects of the Christian sect I was brought in was the idea of sin and how it interacted with hellfire, brimstone and damnation.
After all, God is a loving god. He created us. He understands us in ways that we don't understand ourselves.
So how does sin fit into the equation?
On the one hand, why does sin exist at all? If God is both all-knowing and all-powerful, how did sin come about? He knew from the moment he created mankind that we would sin, and be forever severed from him.
It seems like it would be a simple situation to avoid. You could create mankind without the propensity to sin. You could determine that there was no such thing as sin. You could make it so that the situation in which the sin would occur would never happen. After all, you know the outcome. You know what is going to happen. And you are, of course, omnipotent.
When I mused on these things, and shared my thoughts with Christian peers or leaders, I was given a myriad of answers. God's ways are not our ways, for instance. These were situations to help us grow and learn, was another justification for it. God could not just, not have sin.
To clarify before I push on with this entry, the church that I was raised in was an evangelical fundamentalist independent baptist congregation. In this church, hell was a very real possibility. We were treated regularly to intense discussions of it, descriptions that sometimes drove me to tears as a child and preteen.
The only qualification to avoid hell was that you believed. If Hitler believed--a point I brought up once--he would be forgiven everything and enter freely into heaven.
But anyone that didn't believe--regardless of their moral character--would not be saved, and would be cursed to damnation for all eternity.
So the concept of sin, then, seemed arbitrary to me: If I can sin, and not have to anything other than believe that Christ had saved me, what was the purpose of living a moral life?
The purpose, I was informed, was that it would lead others to Christ--but this seemed like a poor reasoning.
It seemed crazy to think that the only way to get into heaven was to believe, and that a failure to believe would be the only thing that could keep you out.
Sin seemed arbitrary to me in other ways, also.
Why, for example, was eating shellfish sinful in the Old Testament, but wasn't under New Testament law? This seemed arbitrary.
Why was it sinful to wear blends of two or more fabrics? What was wrong with bacon?
And why were some things that I would most certainly consider sins suspiciously absent from the list of sins? Rape, for instance--why is there no, "Thou shalt not rape." Or child abuse. Or spousal abuse. Those were things I consider much more morally-bound than shellfish or bacon.
Of course, the definition of sin that I was raised with was not the only definition out there. I recently had a conversation with a Christian who defined sin as rejecting love. Rejecting God's love, rejecting the love of others, etc--these were the only sins. And in a way, it makes sense. "Thou shalt not kill"--that's taking the love of others away from the world, forever. "Thou shalt not steal"--that's impacting the love of your neighbor. And it comes across as incredibly moral, to me, a great definition for defining the moral and immoral. It covers rape. It covers abuse. It covers everything, pretty much.
And that too makes sin a difficult concept to wrestle with, although infinitely less difficult now that I am no longer a Christian myself.
Much like how I wonder why God doesn't just give us definitive proof that he is here--especially if hell hangs in the balance for eternity--I wonder why he can't provide at least a cohesive definition of sin.
The answer--to me, at least--is that he does not exist.
But I am increasingly interested to hear about how other Christians outside of the fundies I am most familiar with define it.
It's intriguing, to say the least.