Re-naming Sin

Alison-Christian  Re-naming Sin

The word “sin” was a no-no with the last Confirmation group I led. Within the group were five people who had been brought up in Roman Catholics families, one of whom was from an Eastern European background and two from Irish. As soon as I used the word “sin” they almost visibly withdrew into a rather defensive and angry position. When I asked why the answer came that they had been loaded down with a sense of “sin” during their upbringing and if the Anglican Church was going to do the same, they wanted none of it. We had to find other ways of naming “sin.”


This week I talked to a woman, once a committed churchgoer, who had also rejected the Church because of its language about various things. Its emphasis on “sin” was one of them. Yet as she shared her vision about who God is in language she felt comfortable with, there was absolutely nothing that I couldn’t accept as orthodox Christian belief, but put in a rather refreshing way.


As I prepared to say the Confession in the Eucharist today, I thought of these people and all the ways I had “sinned” in my understanding of that word, this week. During this last week I have on occasions quite consciously turned away from God, been resistant to him, been half-hearted in what I have done on his behalf, fallen short (and sometimes more than short) in thought, word and deed in my dealings with other people. But I was rescued a long time ago from the heavy, heavy burden that so many people seem to carry because of this word “sin” and I think I was rescued because that word and lots of other theological words, were explained well to me along with the loving, forgiving nature of God. Sin was explained like this.


Imagine you have a bow and arrow and you are shooting at a target. You aim towards the bull’s eye, but if your aim is just an iota off by the time it reaches the target it will be way off the bull’s eye and might even miss the target altogether. This “missing the mark” is what sin is. Once I understood this I also comprehended how temptation to do something which is not in the end good for us, so often comes wrapped up in what seems acceptable. We can think we are travelling in the right direction but something pulls us off course.


The conversation with the lady this week reminded me that there are many serious seekers out there who are prevented from penetrating deeply into the gospel by religious language. It made clear to me yet again that I have to learn to listen much better to their language about God and their longing for him rather than insist on using my own. Perhaps we all need to realise that some of the religious language we habitually use doesn’t mean the same to others as to us. Some of it carries such loaded cultural history that it wounds people rather than rescues them and portrays an image of God that is not loving but condemning. No wonder they run a mile.