LENT: Whatever Became of Sin?

In the 1970’s, the Christian psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote Whatever Became of Sin? His book pointed to the pendulum swing in our culture where we dislike terms like “sin” or “evil” or “immorality,” and as a result we write off bad behaviors as socially-caused and excuse our actions as psychologically or emotionally motivated.  He asserted that in the culture of the 70’s, we were trying to find the answers to bad behaviors and errant ethics within ourselves.  Think more positively and we could turn away from bad behaviors.

Menninger’s point was not to deny the power of our thought life, but rather to point to the fact that we as human beings have an internal wiring that manifests itself in attitudes and actions that harm our relationships with each and separate us from our relationship with God (see Isaiah 59:2 and Romans 3:23).   An internal problem requires an internal change created by the power of God at work to forgive and transform us.  His solution was to point to the hope that lies in redemption through Jesus Christ.

The Psalmist summarized it this way: “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness so that we can, with reverence, serve you” (Psalm 130:3-4).

As I write these words, we are in the season celebrated by Christians globally known as Lent… and historically, the Church has used these weeks before Easter for repentance (an intentional turning away from sins) and reflection on the grace of God.

In the next few blogs, I hope to explore some of the more subtle sins that permeate our culture and which we have become accustomed to rationalizing away with excuses, semantics, or comparisons against others (rather than against God’s standards of righteousness.  My intent is not to be judgmental (as in condemning somebody else) but rather reflective.

I thought of starting by reflecting on the so-called “seven deadly sins” and then comparing these against the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3ff) – a connection insight that I first gained through the writings of Dr. Peter Kreeft of Boston College but which I’ve since discovered is an entire book by Jeff Cook entitled Seven: the Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes (Zondervan, 2008).  [FYI the “Seven Deadly Sins” are Greed (Avarice), Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Pride, Laziness (Sloth), and Anger (Wrath).]

I may reflect on these in later blogs, but I chose instead to look at the seven sins that God “hates” according to Proverbs 6:16-19 (NIV – with parenthetical adds from Eugene Peterson’s The Message):

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him (he loathes with a passion):

  • Haughty eyes, (eyes that are arrogant)
  • A lying tongue,
  • Hands that shed innocent blood, (hands that murder the innocent)
  • A heart that devises wicked schemes, (hatches evil plots)
  • Feet that are quick to rush into evil, (feet that run down a wicked path)
  • A false witness that pours out lies,
  • And a person who stirs up conflict in the community (a troublemaker in the family).

As I reflect, I’m asking myself two questions:

  1. Do I hate these sins within myself or do I look for ways to talk myself around them?
  2. Do I hate these sins within my own culture or do I simply tolerate the moral and ethical decline around me?   (It’s useful to read Isaiah’s confession/repentance in Isaiah 6:1-8 – where he includes the sins of his society as part of his own guilt.)

Get quiet.  Slow down.  Pray through these sins and the categories they represent – pride, lying, ignoring the innocent who suffer, pursuing a path opposite to God’s intent, a sordid enjoyment with evil.  Listen to the Spirit of whom Jesus says is sent to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and judgment (see John 16:8).  And find the freedom of forgiveness in line with I John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”