Sin. It’s not a fashionable word. In our culture, it isn’t often viewed as something that even exists. I remember, in my first graduate school program, having a conversation about truth—right and wrong, good and evil. It was a rhetoric course, and I think we were discussing the use of language and how it can—and can’t—point to reality and truth. Perhaps ironically, the conversation had taken a turn into ideological Never-Never Land—a place where students go because we like to hear ourselves talk, not necessarily because we have something to say. We were in the realm of ideas, floating in the clouds.
Eventually, we got to the crux of the issue, the real question burning underneath the layers of rhetoric and theory and dialogue: truth. Does truth exist? Is it real? Is there actually good and evil, or just varying shades of gray along a continuum that humans can live within? Who are we to say what is good and what is evil?
I was, from what I knew, the only follower of Jesus in the room, and my heart was pounding. One of my classmates spoke up.
“I don’t think there really is right and wrong. I think that people have their own ways of living. They can choose what their particular rights and wrongs are.”
I knew that there were questions that could cut to the heart of the whole conversation.
I rose my hand.
The professor nodded.
“I disagree,” I said, my voice steadier than I felt. “Right and wrong do exist, and we all know it.” I took a breath. “Would anyone say that what a pedophile does is right?”
The room fell silent.
I had crossed the invisible line; the ideas that exist so nicely in the realm of thought and theory don’t always make sense in the messy world of people. I had named something so evil that no one in the room dared to disagree with me—at least not out loud.
I had crossed the invisible line by naming sin.
Here, in this first week of Lent, we must cross that line again. We must name, at the outset of the season that points us to Easter, the need for this season at all: sin.
Jesus didn’t have to bear the cross for us because we were mostly ok with just a few problems. Jesus didn’t have to wear the crown of thorns because we had it mostly together. Jesus took the pain and the shame and the suffering of the cross and he bled his life out for us because of our sin.
We are all sinners.
We may not be sinners of the type I named in grad school. But comparison of sin does not make sin any less than what it is—falling short of God’s standard of complete holiness. I am a sinner. I don’t have it all together. I fall short of God’s perfection every day, every hour of my life. Jesus went to the cross because I—we—are fully incapable of meeting the standard of holiness that God requires. The Word is clear: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23).
Today, I am considering the reality of my own sinfulness. There is hope on the other side of Lent, but a hope gained too soon takes the sting out of our real state. We have to come to terms with our own state. We are mortal. We will die. We are sinners.
The Gospel, as Frederick Buechner wrote, is bad news before it is good news.
But the Gospel is good news. Easter is coming.
Tell me–where in your life have you had to “cross the line” and tell the truth?