Sunday, February 10, 2008

Beyond Good and Evil?

Last night, my wife and I were talking about sin and grace and the Christian life. I know, not exactly light topics for a late night conversation between husband and wife, but considering that she's a pastor and I'm a theologically educated lay person, just roll with it. She was asking me a serious question - does she challenge the congregation enough with sermons on sin?

My response, and the conversation that ensued covered some very limited territory. It came down to my own beliefs right now on my journey in this thing called faith. I have reached the point where my sense of God's presence does not include that old Protestant bugaboo, the dialectic of sin and forgiveness. Rather, having accepted the reality of Christ's sacrifice, and that it is for me, but not just for me but the whole world, I see faith as encompassing far more than simply vacillating between the poles of despair over my own sinfulness and joy at my acceptance. Such a blinkered, narrow view of the Christian life misses the point that we should move beyond our own, individual needs. This whole Christian thing isn't about me escaping a fiery doom in the pits of hell as demons torture me eternally. Rather, it is about living as God has created us - and here I use the plural quite deliberately - to live. That means, in the end, just living. Including living with the knowledge that I shall not live up to what God expects. Accepting grace means living with the knowledge that's OK.

Harping on sin, whether it be "traditional morality" (whichever tradition one accepts here) or social sin, or what have you, keeps one's Christian faith journey truncated, stuck in park at the foot of the cross. Jesus called us to carry our crosses, not stand and gaze at his. His cross should be before us, of course. But in the distance, that towards which we are always moving, rather than a static presence in a static life. Living the Christian life means risk, including the risk of sin. It also means trusting in grace greater than our sin.

Living means living without a net, metaphysical or otherwise. There are no guarantees this side of the eschaton, so we can only do the best we can, trusting in grace to make up the slack that is inevitable. The decisions we make won't always be right. Even the right ones might either seem wrong, or end up making a mess of things. Thinking that God is going to pull our chestnuts out of the various fires we make in our lives misses the point of the freedom entailed in grace. We weren't freed from sin only to find ourselves chained to it in some kind of push-me-pull-you tug of war with grace. Rather, we are free to live as God intended, for God. Whether that means being a saint, or just being a regular person, or anywhere in between - that is up to us.

In the end, I said that, as a good Wesleyan (and Lisa is a very good Wesleyan), the emphasis needs to be on grace. She responded by saying that while that's true, sin needs to be there as the reason for grace. I agreed, but responded by saying that the emphasis still needs to be on grace - grace unmerited, this mystery of God taking us and making us as we should be.

I don't know if I convinced her, but it was a good conversation.

Virtual Tin Cup

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