Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sin, A Strange Stranger

Strangers can unsettle us. Especially strangers who, regardless of their intentions, strike us as threatening. A lone man smoking in a dark alley might not harm a fly, but he still puts the bravest pedestrian on alert. We intuitively feel the "strangerness" of strangers, as much as we feel the warmth of old friendships. Thus, if the man down the alley is an old college buddy, the entire story changes: we're no longer threatened, instead we're excited by the unexpected reunion.

If we're honest, sin is closer to a friend than a stranger. We may hate this "friend" (or enemy), but we know him intimately. We wake with sin, we walk with sin, we eat with sin and talk with sin. Sin is our oldest acquaintance.

Sin is always a stranger in our world, because God did not make sin. Sin distorts the good things that God made. Sin takes a good creation, like free will and corrupts it into willfulness. Sin takes sexuality, and twists it into lust. Sin takes success and contorts it into idolatry.

Why, then, does sin always seem like a stranger? Cornelius Plantigna writes, “Even when sin is depressingly familiar, it is never normal.” Although we'd expect sin to feel like an old acquaintance, it always feels like a stranger. Let me give a few examples of the "strangerness" of sin:

Having lied countless times, you still feel the pang of guilt when you deceive your spouse. You wonder, "Why did I say that?" and "Where did that come from?" You intuit that lies are strangers in marriage. Lies protract their poisonous fingers into every corner of a relationship, creating new strangers, like anger, resentment, envy, and adultery.

We also feel the "strangeness" of sin when it's committed against us. When we’re slandered we cry out, “Injustice!”, because slander is an unwelcome stranger. We direct our anger at anyone who invites him in.

Even our language acknowledges the “strangerness” of sin. Plantigna writes, “Sin is always a departure from the norm and is assessed accordingly… [as] injustice or iniquity or ingratitude … [or] disorder and disobedience.” Sin is a stranger in language.

Now, there’s a way to blunt our consciences so severely that some sin no longer seems strange. Watch enough Terantino movies, and blood will shock you no more than ketchup. Imbibe enough pornography, and lust becomes a companion. Gorge yourself on enough envy, and you’ll mistake it for ambition. But, normally, much sin feels like a stranger.

Friends should never feel like strangers, but sin (an old friend) does. Sin is a strange stranger. That leads us to our original question: why is sin a stranger? Because sin doesn't belong in our world. It's always an intruder.

If God made us evil or faulty, sin would belong here. Sin would be an unremarkable part of our existence. If we lived in a purely material universe, sin would not seem strange, it would seem natural. Kill or be killed, duh. Yet sin does seem strange, because it's not the way it's supposed to be.

The strangeness of sin points to the fact that it never belonged on earth. It points to the fact that sin is an unwelcome ruining of creation. Sin destroys lives and sunders shalom. That's why we repent of sin. That's why we confront sin. That's why we stand against sin.

I felt the strangerness of sin poignantly over the weekend as I reflected on the Sandy Hook tragedy. Saturday Night Live, began with a children's choir singing Silent Night. They were reaching out to families in Connecticut, but they used the Christian hope to do so. Unwittingly, they acknowledged that an unwelcome stranger, like murder, can only be combatted by the hope of salvation, the hope of a world where tragedies are undone and transformed into something beautiful. No worldview has an answer to sin so true and perfect and satisfying as Christianity.

Our world is not the way it’s supposed to be. The "strangerness" of sin proves this. But Christ died. He paid the penalty for sin, and in doing so, he vanquished it. In Christ we have a promise for restoration, when that old stranger, sin, will be cast out forever and replaced with the warmth of eternal friendship and love.

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