Dr. Adenike YesufuMonday, March 10, 2014
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sh Wednesday usually marks the beginning of the Lenten season when in some traditions adherents are marked with ashes as an ancient sign of penitence. Some Christians ignore the Lenten season saying that there is nothing in the Bible that says we should observe lent and fast. For many Lent is a period of 40 days in which Christians live a life of prayer, fasting, penitence, self-denial and sacrifice in commemoration of Jesus Christ's fasting in the desert before the commencement of His public ministry and in preparation for Christ's resurrection on Easter Sunday. As a period of reflection, I allow my thoughts to dwell on the subject of Sin. Generally most moral codes are injunctions by divine authority hence sin is rebellion against, or resistance to the direction of some supreme deity. It is also seen as the hatred of that which is good and the deliberate choosing of that which is evil. Any thought, word, or act considered immoral, harmful, or alienating might be termed "sinful". Sin is also an action that is prohibited or considered wrong.

In Christianity sin is a deliberate violation of the law of God, an abomination and an act of lawlessness (1 John 3:4) that separates us from God. There are not only sinful acts but also sin in thoughts and words. In Eastern Christianity, sin is viewed in terms of its effects on relationships, both among people and between people and God. In the Russian variant of Eastern Christianity, sin sometimes is regarded as any mistake made by people in their lives. From this point of view every person is sinful because every person makes mistakes during his/her life. When a person accuses others of sins they always must remember that they are also sinners and so they must have mercy for others remembering that God is also merciful to them and to all of humanity.

Sin is not a concept that exists only in Christianity. All the other religions also affirm the existence of sin in different ways. Judaism teaches that any thought, word, or deed that breaks God's law by commission which is doing what should not be done and by omission which is not doing what should be done is sin. Islam sees sin "khati'a" as anything that goes against the will of Allah. The Quran teaches that the human soul is prone to evil, unless Allah bestows His mercy. Buddhism has no concept of sin but it promotes the Four Noble Truths and some ethical Ten Precepts, rules to live by, Do not kill, Do not steal. Do not lie, Do not misuse sex etc. Buddhism also recognizes a natural principle of Karma whereby widespread suffering is the inevitable consequence of greed and hatred of others. Buddhism therefore seeks to end suffering by replacing greed with selflessness, hatred with compassion and delusion with wisdom. Within Shinto there is no doctrine of sin, but the concept of good and evil. Evil is divided into the most vicious crimes "amatsu tsumi" and common misdemeanors or delinquency "kunitsu tsumi". The Baha'i Faith defines sin as disobedience to God and His laws, and is the result of the soul's attachment to material and worldly things. Zoroastrianism says the conflict in the human soul is between good and evil, the struggle to choose between Ahura Mazda the supreme God of Good and Angra Mainya, the god of evil and darkness who opposes God.

Although sin has its roots in religion there is a social response to sin. At times moral, religious and legal codes are intertwined for example killing is illegal, it is also a sin. However socially, many dismiss the concept of sin as a notion that belongs to the Stone Age, a bygone era. Many say sin is subjective and relative. Who defines sin anyway? Many add that humanity is better off not talking about sin. It is a way of enslaving people, a fear mongering tactic, they add. Hence socially sin has become a politically incorrect topic to engage in and the concept is gradually eroding away. However some accept the reality of sin but deny or ignore their own sins. Many others especially in the media and the political world see sin as providing opportunity for entertainment. Sin is the core subject of many shows, movies, and even the news. Some even parade their sins, their own moral failure as a way of establishing a sense of belongingness and connectedness to a society that has gone depraved. Some others gleefully and publicly confess their own sins before the cameras to appease an equally sinful, prying yet forgiving society. Hollywood portrays sin in its most exotic form in the movie Sin City. Michelangelo gives us a classic depiction of sin in his painting in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican fresco with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Great thinkers like RH Dana an American lawyer and politician a champion of the downtrodden, wondered in frustration O sin what has thou done to this fair earth. Thomas Fuller an English church man and an historian says he that falls into sin is a man, he that grieves at it is a saint, he that boasts of it is a devil.

However in religious/spiritual context sin has also become a difficult concept to deal with. Many do not want to be burdened by any guilt-arousing talk from the pulpit. Life is hard enough, they say. A friend of mine says her own sins she can deal with but not the sin of Adam. I agree with her. Many people say they only want to be encouraged by the truth of God's love. Rightfully so! Getting people to fill the pews has become a very competitive enterprise. Religious leaders therefore have a hard time preaching sin. Nobody wants to scare away an already fragile congregation. I have sympathy for them, after all Deut 24:16 says that everyman shall be put to death for his own sin. Who can preach that? In any case there is an ongoing lively competition among the preachers of Prosperity Theology.

It does not matter the ongoing discussions about sin, unfortunately sin is still a reality no matter how much we try to run away from it. Common ideas surrounding sin include consequences to sin either in this life or in afterlife, punishment for sins, from other people, or from God or from the Universe in general. There is also the question of whether an act must be intentional to be sinful and that one's conscience should produce guilt for a conscious act to be sin.

There are also schemes for determining the seriousness and punishment of sin like stoning people to death which Jesus did not support in the case of the adulteress and His classic challenge: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

The classical Biblical dimension to sin is found in 1 John 1:8, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. However there is the possibility of forgiveness of sins, often through communication with a deity or intermediary. In Christianity it is often referred to as salvation. The consoling part of sin is that God says even if our sins are red as crimson they shall be made as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Many Christians rest on the promise found in Romans 8 1 which states that believers in Christ are no longer under condemnation. However some forget Paul's poignant question to the Romans: Yes where sin abounds grace abounds much more, should we then continue to sin so that grace may abound. Paul's response is an emphatic Certainly Not. There is also the question of intentional and deliberate sin? How then do we deal with the subject of sin in all these discourses? The good news is that there is room for repentance. 1 John 1:9 says If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Christianity offers forgiveness for past sins through Christ in a process called salvation. But what about our everyday sins? Some denominations go for formal confession which is scriptural: confess your sins to one another (James 5:16). Some routinely offer the prayers of Penance or Confession, during worship service.

The bible is quite realistic about sin. Its accounts are not filled with super saints whose perfection we must admire. Instead it represents the lives of real people and makes full disclosure of their failings. 2 Samuel 11 shows us a classic sinner's response to sin. King David's sins of adultery and murder were not hidden from God. David initially tried to cover up his sins but when confronted, he owned them, confessed them and asked to be forgiven acknowledging that he had sinned against a Holy and righteous God who alone is able to forgive (Mark 2:7). Proverbs 28:31 says he who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

As for me, I am thankful and continue to relish the fact that I belong to the Anglican denomination that provides me with the opportunity to routinely confess my sins during worship service. Like David in Psalm 32:5 I will continue to acknowledge my sins to God because He is able to forgive them. I am also grateful that each year the Lenten season provides me the opportunity to reflect deeply on the subject of sin. My private prayers to God will continue to be "Keep me from presumptuous sins let them not have dominion over me. (Psalm 19:13)