Most of the definitions of “sin” that I’ve read, or heard, tend to focus on ethics, the “10 Commandments” (but really only #6-10), the “Sermon on the Mount”, maybe some of the lists of St. Paul. All of these have solid precedence for following. Still, something has always been missing for me. None of these taken alone did much for me beyond causing more of a sense of guilt. Earlier this summer I finally found a definition that articulated vague ideas that I had never been able to put into words and, truthfully, made me feel better for knowing! Ironically, the words were not penned by an illustrious theologian, a brilliant philosopher, or a wise, old minister; rather, they came from a novelist who made his living as the head writer of the soap opera, “One Lift to Live”!
The writer is Michael Malone. The novel is titled, appropriately, Handling Sin. It’s a story both hilarious and sweet, and full of quirky, delightful characters. The definition of “sin” arises in a scene between a soon-to-be-defrocked, Episcopalian priest and his nine-year-old son, Raleigh – nicknamed “Specs.” Raleigh tells his father, the Father, of a situation in Sunday School that disturbed him. “Mrs. Jimson [the Sunday School teacher] wrote all these sins on the blackboard. And she says if we do any of them, we have to go to Hell, even if we aren’t even grown-ups.” A scene that reminds me of all too many definitions and discussions I’ve witnessed myself, or worse, participated in.
Raleigh’s father replies:
‘Mrs. Jimson is a horse’s ass.’
‘Cursing’s one of the sins.’
Raleigh flushed with excitement. He looked at his father’s face, only inches away…He could see his own face in the dark center of the blue eyes.
‘Specs, remember when Christ said there were really only two commandments…Love…’
‘I already know. Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.’
‘Right.’ His father rubbed the boy’s corduroy knee. ‘Well, there’s only one sin…What do you think it is?’
Raleigh looked in the eyes for a clue to the answer. He didn’t like being wrong. ‘…Not loving them?’
There it is. The best definition of sin I’ve ever read.