A Sinner

Of course, now I’m feeling a twinge of frustration at that last post. It was something on my mind, sure, and I expressed what I wanted to express. The path to some sort of personal and spiritual and emotional maturity isn’t instantaneous and it is often very difficult. Absolutely. But, on the other side of things it’s so easy to read something like that and think about each of our particular sins or major mistakes — or more likely think about the particular sins and major mistakes of other people we know.

And at that point it’s easy to fall into the old “I’m the worst sinner in the world” trap. Which, to me, is sanctimonious sounding nonsense. Which is a terrible thing to say because it’s Biblical.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst,” Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15. Now, Paul was a guy who, prior to being an evangelist, actually was instrumental in killing Christians. No doubt there were people around who had family members or friends persecuted by this now celebrated church leader. So, in a way, he was pretty bad, maybe the worst, because he persecuted people for serving the Lord he now served. That would be hard to get over without a profound sense of God’s grace. Though, I’m still a bit more inclined to see a few other people as worse sinners. Nero, for instance, was a pretty foul man, and unrepentant at that.

So, I dismiss the passage as being contextual in some way, as we are always apt to do when we come across verses that don’t fit into our established theological narrative. (And Fundamentalists are are bad as liberals in this respect — they just pick different passages to explain away or ignore). My problem –and it’s a problem that actually changed the direction this post was going to take — is that Paul introduces that sentence above with this phrase: “Here’s a trustworthy saying.” Well, when he puts it like that it sure sounds like he’s suggesting it’s a trustworthy saying for everyone, not just his own experiences. Which means I have to wrestle with it and it has to wrestle with me for a little bit.

That being the case, maybe I should jump back and explain why it’s such sanctimonious sounding nonsense (to me). That’s simple to explain. I really am not the worst sort of sinner. I don’t commit the worst sorts of sins. I haven’t left a trail of devastation or corruption in my wake. When I think of great sins, I try to come up with ways I’ve sinned greatly. Which is why I have a hard time giving an interesting testimony. I don’t have an interesting testimony, if by interesting one thinks of being converted from a lifetime of great sins. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m perfect either. Just that my sins are sort of sad kinds of sins, often literally so, with occasional embraces of seasons of depression not exactly helping my sense of righteousness. Not because of the depression, but because of a tendency to see such depression as a source of my own sense of self, integrating it into my identity. Which, honestly, got very boring.

I was a significantly worse person during these times, adding misery on misery, and adding a bad testimony to my already boring testimony. I conveyed a lack of faith in my actions and expressions. I didn’t speak words I probably should have, to help others or myself. And I did, on occasion, speak words that contributed to others experiencing more chaos and frustration. I, no doubt, did things that caused people to stumble, and I allowed myself to stumble when other people did things, then blaming them for my own lack of stillness and peace.

But I wasn’t wholly bad. Because I also was able to, at times, speak words of hope, and words of encouragement. There were worse people out there, to be sure. Especially as the world would define the “worst.”

I think this is where I run into my frustration about that last post. Because it sounds like the difficult, challenging, crushing parts of spiritual maturity are breaking us of our dearly held sins, knocking us down like Paul, blinding us for a bit. Or like the prophet Nathan confronting David’s array of sins that surrounding the whole Bathsheba incident. When I think of being the “worst sort of sinner”, I think about, well, the worst sorts of sins, the sorts of things that would get us locked up in jail, or would cause misery for others. I’ve never been in jail, and while I’ve no doubt frustrated people over the years, I’m not sure I’ve caused people actual misery.

I’m far from perfect, as many people no doubt know. Many people could probably even list the many ways I’m not perfect, and probably there would be a number of things on that list that would surprise me, that I didn’t know about or didn’t know they knew about. But, the worst sinner? Not in terms of committing the worst sins.

Which gets me to thinking about what Paul said and what I was thinking about when I started writing this post.

How do I reconcile my thinking that verse is sanctimonious sounding nonsense when I hear someone else using it and my belief that Paul no doubt knew what he was talking about more than me?

Well, I could take the philosophical route, which is how, I suspect, it’s most often understood. Sin becomes an ontological reality, a way of corrupt being in which there are not degrees of severity, but rather sin is always wholly sin because it is at the very core of who we are as people. Sin, then is this big sort of word with a grand sort of encompassing reality, not as much reflecting acts, but rather identity. This is the doctrine of “original sin.”

I’ll be honest. I don’t find that helpful. And I don’t think that’s what Paul meant, either.

But this post is now plenty long, so I’ll continue my musings later…

This entry was posted in 500, holiness, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Sinner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *