Archive for the ‘redemption’ Tag

SIN AND ME

Posted 6/2/07

This isn’t a clever Bible-backed study, but merely an attempt to articulate the thoughts prevalent in my head. I have found myself wondering ever more of late at the nature of sin, my attitude to it and its effects on me. I have been prompted to do so for a number of different obscure reasons. Primarily, I used to visit the site of an American Christian whose ‘ministry’ is to watch films and record any sinful/ inappropriate content in order that he can advise Christian parents as to their suitability. He is somewhat extreme in his judgements, giving prohibitive ‘red light’ warnings (within a ‘traffic light system’) to the likes of Toy Story, the Chronicles of Narnia and E.T., all backed by Bible verses, whilst often walking out in disgust at films that arouse his particular fury. I used to visit the site to ridicule his methods and phraseology, even writing him a somewhat arrogant e-mail criticising his methods (I’m afraid I may even have advised him to keep an ‘open mind’). Now, upon rediscovering his predictably ‘fire and brimstone’ styled response to me four years later, I find myself revising my opinions. Do I think he is right to discredit most films? No. So did I hold the moral high ground in our exchange? Well I doubt that too.

I have always felt somewhat superior to Christians, like my aforementioned adversary, who can’t abide the company of sinners and sin. Such a tendency has always been backed by the idea that those I have met who must leave a room at the first instance of swearing/ nudity on TV or drunkenness in person, could never truly be ‘in the world’ to the extent of forging real relationships with those outside the church. The idea may even be sound – it is easy to seem judgemental and alien – in loudly disapproving of the sin we too easily disapprove of the person. However, I have undoubtedly failed to balance such an approach with the necessary input of what is godly. It is not healthy to surround ourselves with non-Christians if there are no Christian friends to counter their influence. Neither is it okay to be feeding ourselves a diet of films depicting violence/sexuality etc if we are not guarding ourselves against their influence with meaningful Bible study and the good guidance of Christian sources. It would be better, far better, to not see those things at all.

It is all very well to pat myself on the back at how my many non-Christian friends will see me as a shining light and be thus led to the gospel (another frequent justification I have used for my resisting immersion into the Christian clique), but this will not happen by magical osmosis whilst I rarely speak meaningfully to them about it, and drink as much as they do of an evening, thus negating any example. This is not to condemn myself as a terrible person – I have felt that way at times, but no self-examination or peer review could paint me as violent, an adulterer, a nasty person, an addict or much else to threaten my standing as a good husband and positive role model as a teacher. However, that is not the point. Nor is it enough. I was reading earlier that our perception of sin merely regards the outward expression of true sin – that is our rebellious nature and our compulsion to disregard God’s law, as ensured since The Fall. The fact is that I have, for the most part, remained fine with that rebellion and the offence it causes to God. I am not offended enough by sin. Whilst the above reviewers’ overtly hostile response to sin and sinners may be counter-productive, I fear it is wrong that I don’t flinch at all at sex scenes, f-words or whilst playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’ on the PSP. Returning to that earlier e-mail, he countered my appeal for an ‘open mind’ by sharply retorting that I too should keep an open mind – ‘open to God and his Word’. It’s true. Whilst embracing culture too uncritically, I have read the Bible selectively and taken what I want from it, oh-so-cleverly arguing against the scarier aspects of the Old Testament or even Paul’s letters (a recent perusal of 1 John is a contributing factor to all this angst).

Another contributor this week has been the autobiography of comedian and entertainer Frank Skinner, a true believer of God (albeit through a thoroughly Catholic lens) who spends half his time lighting candles and enduring Mass in penance whilst very publicly celebrating the merits of pornography, sexual promiscuity, laddish behaviour and continually swearing etc. It is all too easy to become a lesser version of this model – popular depiction of Christian repentance lends credence to the idea of ‘sin now pay later’. But our choices are less sins than evidence of sin on a deeper level. If we are comfortable with, or particularly prone to, these acts then some proportion of our heart is hardened to God, His will and His hatred of that sin.

Wrong choices all have consequences. It is perhaps that which I am realising most right now. If I wonder why I am so far from where I should be nearly 28 years into my life – why I know God and his will for me less than I should and have struggled to find a place in his family – then I need to re-examine my choices. They all came with a ready-made excuse. My teenage pride and sixth-form party lifestyle (‘a natural part of adolescence and an understandable reaction to my sheltered upbringing’) at the expense of school CU and church commitment led to great personal angst and selfishness in setting a bad example to my brothers, leading to a near fatal incident for one of them, whilst undoing much of the good work in my childhood Christian development. My decision not to attend Christian Union at university nor join a church (‘a need to find my own faith in my own time, not just do what my parents expected’) led to a great and significant stalling in my development as a Christian and caused me to miss out on a time of great potential fellowship. It left me less likely to make good decisions and, for example, the pornography I viewed in my dwelling with 6 non-Christian lads has left indelible mental images, impacting upon my expectations of sex and the godliness of my thoughts. Over the years the films I have watched, the books I have read, the company I have kept, and the selfish decisions I have made have all served to desensitise me towards sin and have led me to often feel out of place in churches (several of which we have joined and left), usually blaming the church in the meantime. Throughout all of this I have believed steadfastly in my salvation through Jesus and have prayed in times of need, knowing I have been saved. But I have still paid a price for my disobedience, alongside my blessings, and I deserve to be held accountable, as I will be, for those I could have reached by example or counsel who instead saw me drunk.

So what to do? Well as I said I’m not a case for despair and I am learning that it works the other way too. The input of a good church over the previous year has led me to such ruminations, particularly when allied to a thought-provoking Bible study group and a burgeoning interest in Christian discussion blogs – as a historian, the cut & thrust of theology naturally appeals. Just as negative inputs lead to bad choices, so good inputs can bring us gently into the fold. At first everyone thinks they have to get their behaviour right through their own strength, and they fail. Then, like me, they might twig that prayer and a relationship with God makes it a lot more likely that appropriate behaviour will naturally follow as our heart changes. Well I worked that out a long time ago and have since wondered why it is then that I so often seem unable to do the praying and relationship bit. It is only now I am realising that as weak humans we need the third part to this puzzle. We are going to develop that thirst for time with God by the constant reminders and encouragement of a Christian community. If we neglect that, then it will be Satan who pulls us in the other direction through the many cultural distractions that, little by little, harden our hearts.

So am I going to throw away my 18-rated movies and hip-hop? No, I’m not as I appreciate many of both as thought-provoking or simply fine art inspired by God-given talent. But I will be careful of what I put in, monitor its likely impact on me and others, and balance it with Christian input in order that I might gain required wisdom. Will I ditch my non-Christian friends or rail against their conduct? No – their companionship and support for me is a blessing. But I will invite them to church and will hold myself responsible for my behaviour in front of them. There are still questions I ponder. Could Jesus tolerate sin? At that wedding in Canaan, as wine was drunk by the barrel-load, was Jesus still able to enjoy himself with his disciples if there was drunken singing at the next table along? I would think so – after all, if sin is in the heart of all, unchecked in the case of unbelievers, then Jesus must have been constantly aware of it, whilst still being able to act as a compassionate friend and enjoy at least some of his time on earth. The warning to ‘sin no more’ was never far away, but the evident love that drew people in was not conditional upon their behaviour. However, a response to this approach did clearly demand a change. Speaking personally, that change is probably overdue. Now the tough bit is doing something about it…

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