Issac Newton had it right: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Am I so arrogant to say that I am seeing farther than anyone else? Yeah, and also I have this big bag of self-confidence to spare and have done away completely with self-deprecation.
If you can’t tell, that is sarcasm. But I do think that I am on to something, I do thing that I have a new way to think about sin that is complicated while simple and convicting while freeing, and I think that is a better way to look at sin as opposed to a trying to determine the specifics of what in the Old Testament are sins and what are not. It gives us authority and legitimacy when we say that a particular part of the Old Testament does not apply today and yet we still view it as holy; using my definition, we are using what our savior said to explain our actions and beliefs. It’s challenging, we have to explain a lot of the context and the changes, but it gives us a real reason why we can let women in church while menstruating* and why we don’t, and certainly shouldn’t, stone homosexuals in the street.
I would love to claim that my definition of sin, and its implications, come from my thoughts alone but I cannot. I know that I have been influenced by those who have come before me, lived and thought before me, and found truths that we tend to lose when we just living in the physical pages and ink of scripture. I know there are theologians and scholars that have worked with sin and context and moral relativism whose thoughts I am echoing and whose work I am probably, somehow, building upon. I know there are other authors and thinkers whose view of the world has shaded mine and molded me into the person I am now.
I know this, and I have to credit them. Thus this part of the Sin Series: the “Shoulders of Giants”, or SOG as a pithy way to put it. I feel that I need to recognize those whose writing and thoughts have influenced mine and have led me to thinking this way.
The first is Harper Lee. To Kill a Mocking Bird has been my favorite novel since I first read it 15 years ago. I return to it every couple of years and aside from scripture, there is not another piece of literature that has new meaning for me more than this. It is such a beautiful novel, so full of pain and joy and growth, and I just can’t let is sit on a shelf for more than a couple of years before I have to re-read it.
To why her word is relevant to this line of thought, I think that Heck Tate’s speech on why he wouldn’t tell people that Boo Radley saved Jem had a deeper impact on my view of sin than I realized before I started putting this together. I think his words will stand for themselves:
I never heard tell that it’s against the law for a citizen to do his utmost to prevent a crime from being committed, which is exactly what he did, but maybe you’ll say it’s my duty to tell the town all about it and not hush it up. Know what’d happen then? All the ladies in Maycomb includin’ my wife’d be knocking on his door bringing angel food cakes. To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight—to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man, it’d be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch…I may not be much, Mr. Finch, but I’m still sheriff of Maycomb County and Bob Ewell fell on his knife. Good night, sir.
Heck Tate here has matured beyond viewing sin as a devout following of a list of rules. He has grown beyond the Law in the moment and sees sin in a way that is about doing wrong to a neighbor instead of what he was told he was supposed to do. Call it moral relativism, call it a weak view of sin, but I can’t help but think he is right in that moment. It was unlawful, it was bearing a false witness about a neighbor (note the word change), and yet I see the correct and holy act being done here.
I also want to bring this up because most people won’t disagree with me. I’ve yet to hear someone say, “Heck Tate is a horrible man for what he said here and should be jailed and condemned to Hell!” I’ve never heard it, and I don’t think I will. Yet, in accordance with the letter of the law and the Law, he is wrong.
It’s important because we have to be consistent. We can’t excuse this because of context and then not something else if the context justifies its excuse. We can’t have it both ways. If we are to have authority and be legitimate, we have to be consistent, thought-out, and honest with ourselves.
Context and situation are as defining of sin as are the Laws written within scripture. We can sin and still be within the confines of the Law, and we can do what is right and holy while straying outside the confines of the Law.
That is why I defend my position on sin. It frees us from the Law (which we are dead to, anyway, and cannot be saved by) while making us truly analyze our actions and choose a selfless path actively. It makes us consider our sin and be active participants in holiness, not just mindless followers of words on a page.
Simplified while being infinitely more complex, convicting while freeing. That’s what I hope my view of sin is.
And Heck Tate did the right thing, no matter the law or the Law.
* No, I did not think starting this blog would make me say that word as much as I have.