Love the sinner, hate the sin.
What do we even mean by sin?
Anything that separates us from God. I have heard this, more than once, but it's incomplete. Before the Fall, did bees sting? Did the spider bite? Did we eat meat?
How is sin always an action we purposefully engage when it seems, from Scripture, that it is the wound of our cosmos, stretching further and farther than we imagine?
Are we so clever to know what sin is all the time? Are we so certain? On some things, perhaps, but in the shades of grey, do we dare pause to wonder? To pray?
We make lists. We say, this is sin and this is wrong and this is evil and this ... and we keep turning it over, century after century, and declare certain sins vogue and others the issue of the age. We circle our conversations around specifics when what we perhaps should be looking to are broad implications, narratives, themes.
But this is troubling. It makes us responsible for so much, when we think we have so little time.
In the Gospel of St. John, Pilate declares of Christ, "Behold the man!" on the sixth day of the week, the Friday. If we linger just long enough, perhaps we see the cosmos God wove into that moment of history. For it was on another sixth day, fact or poetic, thousands or millions of years ago, that the first man was formed. Adam, on the sixth day, Christ, the new Adam, on the sixth day. And what else of the sixth day?
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
On the sixth day, all the work of creation was complete. So very later, on another sixth day, on the cross, Christ declares, "It is finished."
What is finished?
Is it not the work of the creation that Adam and Eve were first given to do but did not? Is it not the announcement that the work God began in a garden was now truly unfolding?
Through death on a cross.
Through a death that stood in defiance of all the worldly powers, authorities, and institutions.
The Messiah came with His sword, but its blade did not slit the throats of the overseers. The Messiah was nailed to a tree. The Messiah inaugurated His kingdom through means that were foreign, entirely, to the expectations of the world.
This is how God redeems sin. Pierced hands; pierced feet.
This is how we see the kingdom of God proclaimed.
Defiance of powers and authorities that oppress.
Pierced hands; pierced feet. Crucifixion. Defiance of their authority leads to crucifixion. A pure love, a wide, hungry love, gets you stretched out on a cross.
Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.
I read somewhere, a few weeks after Les Miserables was first released, that Christians should be wary of interpreting it as an allegory of Christian life. I found this confusing, given that even on its surface the presence of Christian influence is startling, none more-so obvious than in the frequent display of crosses throughout the scenes.
The push-back largely centered on less-than-ideal elements in the story, such as Fantine's prostitution, which she is never apparently redeemed of in a tangible way but, nonetheless, she appears at the end of the film as an intercessor, leading Jean Val Jean to be received by God in peace.
How could she, sinfully trading her body, no matter how noble her intentions were to save her daughter, be recognised as the means by which God would reveal an aspect of His love, the means by which one man discovers for what purpose his "soul was bought by God"?
Unless sin isn't something that sits in us individually, but in us and around us.
Perhaps sin is not what people do and only what people do, but is a systemic reality that has hunched over the Earth into her old age well before she was old.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
St. Paul, writing to the Romans. He seems to think that this is something we already should know.
Perhaps sin is something larger than you or I. Perhaps it Is powers and principalities, institutions that push people into lives that do not honour God, conditions that make prostitution the only option for Fantine, who, though she sins, cannot be completely to blame for a system that itself operates against the inaugurated kingdom of God, against the One found outside the city gate.
But this is a jarring thought.
What if privilege is real? What if systemic patriarchy is real? What if birth control isn't as simple as we paint it? What if social justice looks like our front porch and doesn't always look like a mission trip? And what if does?*
What if in order to be faithful, we must rethink all of this---not just what I've listed, but all of our paradigms? Or, perhaps, we must get a little quiet with all our love for sinners to spend some time hearing how we have been culpable in systems by which sin takes shape.
I find you there in all the things I care for like a brother. A seed, you nestle in the smallest of them, and in the huge ones you spread yourself hugely.
Rilke. I. 22.
Is resurrection power sometimes quiet?
Is it tabling here, now, in our present, teaching sons and daughters to think of men and women as uniquely but equally called? Is it teaching them to expect miracles and long for justice? Is it teaching them to feed the hungry and look after the widows? Is it teaching them that with the smallest of measures, even what looks to be little faith can overthrow the darkness with the fracture-break of light?
Can these small steps in these small spaces we call our own be, without expectation, what causes the hugeness, what brings about the herald cry of Kingdom! into our living rooms, spilling out our windows, down our sidewalks, and round and over and through our busy streets and our hidden alleys?
Lighten our darkness, Lord Christ.
When we love the sinner, do we have to do so much more than we ever expected?
Asking Jesus into our hearts.
Jesus. The incarnate. The fullness of God.
Did we realise, then, what we were asking for?
A few little words mean all that.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
I've always found the ending of Job a remarkable puzzle. God never says that Job has assessed anything incorrectly, but simply that even Job's great and vast incorporation of God's authority over all things still misses so much, still cannot account for the whole of God.
I wonder what God thinks of our lists.
I wonder what He thinks of how tidily we decide what constitutes sin, what is weighted more severely, what is true injustice.
I have a dreadful feeling that we'll be surprised.
We all have our part in this, our own culpability, our own response. Some will shout and yell, some will dance and sing. Perhaps the key is in recognising between all of us faithful the unifying grace of Christ, who stands in opposition, in every form, to the sinful oppression of the creation He loves.
And for some this will be about sex trafficking and some about fair trade and some about clean water and some about AIDS and some about education. If we can listen to each other, if we can hear the gospel behind the language that makes us nervous, perhaps we can participate, actively, in Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Perhaps we can, together, through the working of Christ within us, uncover a love for the sinner that accounts for our own, that accounts for us as sinners ourselves, and sees us as co-heirs with Christ announcing a kingdom that turns the expectations of the world on its head, that overcomes all sorts of evils, perhaps evils we never even think to consider, perhaps evils we help perpetuate and create.
As it is said,
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.
*My thanks to my good friend, Dianna Anderson, for some of these link recommendations.