Last year during Lent, a friend of mine who sometimes attends church complained that the pastor's sermons contained too much about God and Jesus and sin, and not enough that's "uplifting".
Actually, I think I get that — because many of us, sometimes even church folk, go about our lives with only distant thoughts of God or Jesus. And we tend to view a lot of what once passed for sin through the lenses of the social and biological sciences. So preaching about sin — unless it focuses on hot-button justice issues — may strike us as banal.
It's not that we don't still have a sense of right and wrong, but living in an age that has distanced God, we have, correspondingly, "dumbed down" the idea of sin. We tend to see certain actions as unfortunate, regrettable, or inappropriate, but no longer appallingly sinful, because we have separated the offensive action from the party who was offended. It is hardly surprising, then, that our neighbours and even some church folk are not animated by the penitence that we focus on during Lent.
A line famously attributed to Dostoyevsky says, "If there is no God, all things are permissible." As that statement implies, the idea of "sin" depends on the assumption that God exists — that He intended us to live in a particular way, and that we don't.
After the prophet Nathan confronted King David about his affair with Bathsheba, David acknowledged God as the offended party:
Psalm 51:4a – Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. (ESV)
Of course, Bathsheba (I hope), her husband Uriah (if he had known), and their respective families, would have thought themselves to be the offended parties, too. But David intuits Dostoyevsky's meaning: there can be no sin without God, so only He can infallibly hold us to a just account.
David's view, learned through bitter experience, is consistent with that of other Bible characters. Luke tells of a time when Jesus' disciples had spent a fruitless night fishing. The next morning, Jesus told them to try again, and what a huge catch!
Luke 5:7-8 – They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (ESV)
Now, even the most avid fisherman wouldn't react that way, even if it had been the Real Fishing Show host, Bob Izumi, telling him to try again. So how do we account for Peter's reaction? Peter became aware, in a way that perhaps he had not been before, that being in the presence of Jesus, he was in the presence of the holy.
When God finally confronts Job, He spends four chapters recounting the marvels of His creation, and Job is ashamed and repents "in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6 ESV). When Isaiah has a vision of God in the temple, he exclaims, "I am doomed, for I am a sinful man." (Isaiah 6:5 NLT)
A psalm attributed to Moses says, "Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance" (Psalm 90:8 KJV). Lent is a time to enter into the light of His countenance, to catch a glimpse (for that's all we can bear) of God in His holiness, and to see ourselves revealed in that awesome light.
But like those Bible characters, there's something else that we're also likely to see in that light:
Psalm 16:11 – Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (KJV)
What could be more uplifting than that!
Prayer: Grant us, O Lord, to know the light of Thy countenance, that seeing Thee, we may see ourselves, and know ourselves in Jesus to be the undeserving children of Thy grace. Through Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen.
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