Now the definition of sin that many of us were given was a thought, word or deed contrary to the Law of God. The requirements for sin were three:
- You had to have full knowledge.
- It had to be a grievous matter.
- You had to give it full consent.
It all sounds reasonable at first glance, but actually it’s not a definition of biblical sin at all. It’s a juridical definition of law. We lost touch with the biblical tradition and the intimately personal struggle meant by the word ‘sin’. We made the whole thing juridical, where we could easily identify it, shame it and enforce it. Thus our concerns came with external behaviour that could be pointed to, measured, defined and controlled, or brought into ‘court’ as it were. You cannot do that with mercy, justice and good faith… which Jesus calls the ‘weightier’ matters of the Law.
~ Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality by Richard Rohr
…Jesus addressed the crowds and his disciples. “The scribes and the Pharisees speak with the authority of Moses,” he told them, “so you must do what they tell you and follow their instructions. But you must not imitate their lives! For they preach but do not practise. They pile up back-breaking burdens and lay them on other men’s shoulders—yet they themselves will not raise a finger to move them. Their whole lives are planned with an eye to effect. They… love seats of honour at dinner parties… They love to be greeted with respect in public places… The only ‘superior’ among you is the one who serves the others. For every man who promotes himself will be humbled, and every man who learns to be humble will find promotion.
extract from Matthew 23:1-12 (JB Phillips)
It’s as if Jesus is waving and shouting, “You’re looking in the wrong place!” but we’re all so busy doing ‘religion’ that we either can’t see Him or we ignore Him. We’re preoccupied with either ourselves and our egos or with the opposite – with worry about doing the ‘right thing’.
If the mind that needs to make moral judgements about everything is the master instead of the servant, religion is almost always corrupted. Some would think that is the whole meaning of Christianity: to be able to decide who’s going to heaven and who isn’t. This is much more a search for control than it is a search for truth, love or God. It has to do with ego, which needs to pigeonhole everything to give itself that sense of ‘I know’ and ‘I am in control of the data’… I guess God knew that such would be the direction that religion would take, so God said, “Don’t do it! Don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
~ Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality
“Don’t judge other people and you will not be judged yourselves. Don’t condemn and you will not be condemned. Make allowances for others and people will make allowances for you. Give and men will give to you—yes, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will they pour into your lap. For whatever measure you use with other people, they will use in their dealings with you.”
~ Luke 6:37-38, JB Phillips
Have done, then, with impurity and every other evil which touches the lives of others, and humbly accept the message that God has sown in your hearts, and which can save your souls. Don’t I beg you, only hear the message, but put it into practice; otherwise you are merely deluding yourselves… Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.
~ James 1:21,22,27
I wonder if ‘keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world’ means what we think it means?
I’m only a half hour or so into the audiobook of Things Hidden and already it is challenging me exactly where I need it.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
~ Psalm 40:1-2 (NRSVA)
The following quote is one of many, addressing various issues, that have leapt out at me (in fact it’s one of the less impressive, there are others that are better still, but I thought my readers might appreciate this one as it appeals to a broad spectrum):
Conservatives, in my experience, are those who over-rely upon outer authority, while liberals tend to over-rely upon their own inner authority. Maturity, as always, is that ‘third something’ in between, a spacious place that is offered by God and grace, leaving neither of us totally comfortable.
~ from Things Hidden by Richard Rohr
I have the Kindle version of this book on my wishlist (it helps to be able to read and listen). Already I can say I highly recommend ‘Things Hidden’. Here is an author at once sharp and compassionate, with a deep, grace-infused wisdom.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
~ Psalm 18:19 (NIVUK)