Sin, Death and Judgment

I posted a response on another blog, which received a response yet again, so I’m going to think a a bit this drizzly Saturday morning about sin and death (right before making breakfast!). Here goes . . .

I like the “missing the mark” definition of sin. In Old Testament usage, sin was an infraction of God’s law, the hundreds of rules, regulations and commandments that made up Jewish theological/legal tradition. The “missing the mark” definition conjures up an image of an archer trying to hit the bullseye in a competition. Not committing sin would entail always hitting the center of the target – sin would entail missing the center circle and hitting away from the center.

If the archers’ aim were off a miniscule amount, he might hit just outside the bullseye center, maybe losing a few points – Catholic theology calls this a venial sin – something that, in and of itself, will not deny us entry into heaven. If the archers aim were off by a large amount – hitting the outer edge of the target or missing it completely – this would be a mortal sin, an action that in and of itself can deny us entry into timeless bliss.

Concerning the distinction between a mortal and venial sin, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say (#1857-1859 – those are paragraph notations by the way, not publication dates!):
In order for an action to be considered a mortal sin it must meet thre criteria:
1. It must be grave matter.
2. It requires full knowledge. One must appreciate the gravity of the sin, and be cognizant of what one is doing.
3. It requires complete consent of mind and will.

(BTW, Catholic theology also allows for questions of intent and circumstantial situations to affect the mortality of a sin.)

Having said all this, let me ramble on about sin for a few paragraphs.

Sin comes from choice, and sin affects us in body, mind, soul and spirit. When we first choose to commit a sin, to take a course of action that hurts us, hurts someone else, or goes against God’s nature, most people feel a certain sense of something out of sorts. There’s a sense of dis-ease, a sense of nagging guilt, a sense that we’ve stepped over a boundary we should have left intact. If we are forced to talk to others about our sin, we have a hard time meeting their eye – we feel shame at what we’ve done. This is good – that’s supposed to happen – we have a built in indicator of what is acceptable and what is not.

However, after a while sin becomes second nature. As we commit more sins, or commit the same sins over and over, we become inured to the after effects of sinful behavior – it becomes a habit, and we start to justify our actions, or rationalize our behaviors. Since change takes energy, we resist the work it takes to undo a sinful habit and instead opt for the lower-energy course of just staying with the new, sinful behavior.

Now here’s where we start to see the implications for our eternal life. Once we’ve committed a sin, we have two courses of action: we can confess our sin (either in a good Catholic way with a priest or in a more general way with God or with the person we have hurt), or we can refuse to admit any wrongdoing. Similarly, when someone hurts us, we have two courses of action: offer forgiveness when asked (or even before being asked), or withhold forgiveness and a chance for reconciliation with the person or persons that hurt us.

This is the deciding factor in our resurrected life. If we never practice asking other people for forgiveness, or asking God for forgiveness while here on earth, the habit we take with us into timelessness will be a habit of not wanting to ask for forgiveness. I see it with kids on a frequent basis – they do something wrong, but they convince themselves that it was someone else’s fault, or that everyone is being unfair to them, or that thry could do nothing to stoop themselves – they want to persist in not acknowledging the fact that they did something hurtful or wrong. (I see it in adults, too, but we’ve got much more devious ways of persisting in a state of not wanting to acknowledge our own faults!)

The second part of this is that we must also form a habit of giving forgiveness when asked. As above, if we never practice the sacred art of swallowing our injured pride and opting for reconciliation when it’s offered, we will take with us a habit of not being able to accept reconciliation when it is offered to us.

Jumping off of my Bubble of Time post, once we pass through the spacetime we inhabit into the Timeless realm of God, we will have to stand before our God and do two things: offer a sincere confession of our sins while on earth, and then accept God’s forgiveness of our sins. If, however, we never practiced doing these two things here on earth, we will not have the capacity to start practicing these things once in heaven. We will be standing before the One who is love, forgiveness and mercy, and we will be unable to open up our stone-surrounded hearts to the outpouring of divine mercy we are given. We will stand in judgment over ourselves, with God as a silent witness to the sentence we pass on ourselves: hell, eternal separation fro the source and author of our life.

Since we will finally see through our own lies and self-deceptions as we enter the realm of God (no more looking through a hazy mirror), if we have never practiced offering and receiving forgiveness and reconciliation, then we will not be able to do it after death. We will have charted our own course through this world and the next, and God, being a loving and just God, will not force us to accept what our hearts, minds, souls, and spirits never tried to do while on earth. We will spend eternity knowing that if we could but ask for and accept God’s forgiveness we sould be able to open our heart and eyes and realize that God’s presence was always there – it was only us who shut ourselves off from the truth of eternity.

My prayer is that, while we are here on earth, we take advantage of every opportunity to offer and receive forgiveness and reconciliation – it will put us in touch with the timelessness we have inside of us, and it will start to get us ready to live in the timeless realm that is God’s kingdom.

Blessings & Peace,

2 thoughts on “Sin, Death and Judgment

  1. Hugo says:

    As a Catholic I’m duty-bound to offer the response that it should be a properly formed and properly informed conscience 🙂

    But yeah – I know where’re yoo’re coming from. It always makes people a bit nervous when we start talking about conscience – many people want just cut and dried pat answers to moral questions – it’s hard to make them see that sometimes you *have* to think things through in order to come to a proper moral response.

    Blessings & Peace,

  2. Matt says:

    Good stuff. It’s interesting: several times I’ve crossed paths with people who don’t like any suggestion of sin being gauged by conscience. They make the point that some people seem to have no conscience; thus we are obliged to look only to the Bible to find out what sin is. They literally can’t conceive of the fact that they use their conscience that way all the time, since the Bible doesn’t exactly list every single since of the current or future ages specifically. I’d prefer to rely on my conscience, and just acknowledge that some people are “broken” in that particular function.

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