detail from gate in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
In the Christian world, sin has traditionally been associated with the breaking of the laws of God, especially in the sense of succumbing to passion. Basically, the feeling is that if we fail to follow the law, we are sinning.
The original sin was disobedience (eating from the tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil) and all others followed from that. Unfortunately, we have become so legalistic in our interpretations of Scripture and following the Ten Commandments that we have become like the Pharisees ourselves.
These days it seems like the most attention is paid to sins involving passion and the body: adultery, homosexuality, masturbation, pornography, sexual fantasies, and so on.
“Since all emotions have their corollary in identifiable chemical processes of the body,” John Sanford says, “this attitude toward sin amounts to a negation of the bodily or nature human being.”
Jesus actually says very little himself on the sins of the flesh. He seemed more deeply concerned with the sins of the spirit because they are infinitely more deadly (to the soul) than are the fleshly sins.
Regardless, the general collective attitude toward sin is, according to Sanford: You know better, God gave you the rules, you deliberately chose to flout or ignore them, and now you must be punished. Our entire penal code as well as our idea of heaven/hell are based on this attitude.
But, when we look at the Gospels, we see a completely different picture of what is sinful. In Greek, the word for sin is hamartia, which means to “miss the mark”. It is essentially the same word an archer would use when he shot an arrow and missed the target. If sin is so destructive to human life then why did the writers of the Gospels use such a benign word? After all, it doesn’t seem so very bad to “miss the mark.”
Yet, if Jesus is speaking of the unconscious, missing the mark springs from one’s unconsciously motivated actions. In essence, it is a lack of awareness of our true selves that leads us into sin.
“As long as we live in this moral darkness,” Sanford says, “without knowledge of what we are doing and why, we can only hope to obey a law fixed by God. However, such a morality is not a morality of love but of slavish obedience. It is an inferior morality because it is not based upon one’s knowledge of one’s self and of God but upon an uncreative obedience to regulations imposed from without.”
On the same day, seeing a man working on the sabbath day, he [Jesus] said to him “Friend, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed; but if you do not know, you are an accursed breaker of the Law.” From an early Christian manuscript following Luke 6:5
Clearly, the Law exists for the regulation of human life. It may only be broken by “those who know what they are doing.” That is, people who are conscious, who know themselves in depth, including their unconscious motivation, can break the Law.
“If such persons transcend the Law,” he says, “knowing what they are doing, they are blessed because they have reached a higher, creative ethic. But, if they do not know what they are doing, and are acting out of ignorance or self-deception, their sin is a great one.”
“The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be all darkness. If then, the light inside you is darkness, what darkness that will be!” Matthew 6:22-23/Luke 11:33-36
In this case, the body is the inner person and the eye is our spiritual or psychological perception. If our eye/spiritual insight is dark, and we therefore act out of ignorance of ourselves, our entire inner life, our very soul, will be dark because we will be possessed by everything within ourselves of which we are unconscious.
The very fact that there is something within us that would cause us to break the Law is the reason we have the Ten Commandments. The trick is to become conscious of and come to terms with the fact that we are egocentric, we do have a thief within us, we do covet, etc. Simply being aware goes a long way toward understanding ourselves.
“Under the new ethic of the kingdom,” Sanford says, “we can be free from the power of sin, but not free from guilt. This is the paradox of the kingdom. No one can exist as a human being, opposed to him- or herself, without guilt.”
But, he continues, we can be free from the power of sin to to the extent that we are conscious of our inner opposition. Unfortunately, so many people are frightened of guilt that they will do anything to avoid it. This results in a repression of creativity, and it also results in NOT avoiding our guilt.
“Either we believe that that we have succeeded in fulfilling all the requirements and are righteous,” Sanford says, “in which case we are unbearable to everyone else, or we know we are failing and are unbearable to ourselves because we now carry a frightful burden of guilt.”
Evil is separation: theologically it is separation from God; pyschologically it is separation within oneself. To restore unity, to unify ourselves with God and ourselves, we must drop the mask and consciously confront and accept the “inner enemy.”
We must accept guilt as an inevitable consequence of being human and making choices. When we make choices we run the risk of being “wrong,” but being human is to stop playing it safe and to live life to its fullest.
“When we acknowledge the inner enemy and experience the birth of a conscious ethic, he says, “a connection is established between consciousness and the inner depths. This connection is vitally important, for it is the soul itself.”
Next Week: The Faith of the Soul.