So I want to spend some time talking about why as Christians we choose not to sin. This is partly an expansion of something I mentioned in my review of a church called White Couch and partly a response to a comment I received on that post. The pastor made a remark in church to this effect: “We shouldn’t sin because sin makes Jesus sad.” In that post I said:
“The way Jesus feels about us should be the last reason not to sin. The first reason should be the other person we are hurting and the second reason should be the damage we are doing to ourselves.”
I was (intentionally) implying it is silly to decide not to sin based on how it makes Jesus feel. Jesus and God, and even the Holy Ghost being almighty, can handle themselves, I reasoned. They don’t actually need me to protect their feelings. I got a reply to this post disagreeing with my statement and asserting that we do not sin primarily because sins are against God and therefore the pastor was correct.
Still I find I have to disagree with this line of thinking. I happen to believe we are not following what God says simply because he said it. I believe God is a God of love. I believe he cares about us and wants us happy, contented, and well-taken care of. This being the case, I think God established a set of rules for us NOT because he likes arbitrary rules, but because those rules actually help us all to be happy, contented and well-taken care of. I think sin is not ultimately about disobedience. In my understanding of it, sin is about causing harm to ourselves, another human, or another piece of God’s creation. I think we have the ability to see that it is better for us not to sin, and I honestly think God prefers us to think about why we are doing a thing vs. just doing it OR ELSE.
Another way of looking at this might be to consider what it would look like it we did assume all God’s rules were arbitrary and to be followed without question just because God said so. I read a news story about a man who was drenched by water after being swept away in flooding during Superstorm Sandy. He took refuge in a nearby (evacuated) house. To gain entry he broke in. Once inside he left a note explaining that he took only blankets, was suffering hypothermia, and feared death. In the strictest sense, this man destroyed property and stole. Would this be considered a sin? If obedience to the rules is our means of determining rightness vs sinfulness, I think we have to say yes, this man did sin. I am not comfortable with that and I don’t think I’m alone in my assessment. I contend that when we excuse this behavior we are using our understanding of the reasons not to sin rather than simply seeing sin in terms of obedience to God’s instructions. I’m really on-board with the idea that God gave us brains so we could think, and I’m a fan of doing that. In the end, I just don’t think we avoid sin to please God. I think we avoid sin because it makes things more awesome for everyone and that just makes sense.
My quest for church is also my quest for understanding the thing we call God. Notice I didn’t just say ‘God’? That’s because I don’t think it’s that simple. I’ve mentioned before how we all have an idea of who God is. Even atheists who think God is fictional have an idea what a person means when they start to talk about God. But people’s ideas can sometimes be so drastically different as to beg the question whether this could even be the same entity. How can we know who God really is? The two answers I’ve received are 1) reading the bible 2) communing with God through prayer. Now, I think the bible has some serious problems. Although it is an actual physical thing we can hold, I’m not sure how good a ‘proof’ it is in terms of telling us definitively who God is. I’ve spoken to this before, but in short it’s an ancient reretranslated book that few people can agree on how to interpret. So I’d like to instead speak to communicating with God directly by praying and listening. Here are my conflicting sides of this ‘talk to God’ coin.
Only my stupidest, most frivolous and inconsequential prayers have ever been answered. I once asked for a parking space, boom! There was one. I asked for the elevator to hurry up, ding! There it was. I asked for God to allow someone’s asthma attack to end. It got worse. I asked for God to spare the life of my friend’s sick infant. No. And so on.
I have been told that God listens to his children at prayer and gives them good gifts. My own experience suggests that God does this only for very small matters, as if he either does not care or hasn’t the power to work on larger matters.
Something like a decade ago I occasionally had the ability to predict unlikely things. A coworker at a kids camp lost his wedding ring at the camp. I mean- a camp full of dirt and trees and a large lake. I told him, “Don’t worry you’ll find it.” He did. How did I know this? It could have been at the bottom of the lake for all I knew. The second clear example I remember was when a friend of mine was sick with cancer. I was thinking of him and almost in this meditative state asking in my head, “Will he be ok?” In my mind I saw a thick book open to the middle. There was text on both pages too tiny to be read. Overlaying both pages, right across the middle of the book in black text I saw the word YES. And my friend recovered and is in remission.
The other side of my coin tells me that something special happened to me during that brief period if my life and I was able to see answers before they came about.
What do both sides of my coin mean? Well they perplex me. I know that many people have also had similar coin sides. Many pray and still lose loved ones. Many pray and are seemingly granted a miracle or divine contact. I’m still thinking about this one; still open to possibilities. I hope it isn’t too corny of me to say I see God in those possibilities.
Church said God would be there when you need him. Church said God knows our hearts and that he hears us when we are sad. Church said God comforts us when we feel our hearts are breaking. Today, God is all my friends.