Sin, in ways small and large, continually knocks us down and by the grace of God we, with the struggle and blessing of repentance, get back up every day and sometimes minute by minute. For the Christian there will be one last day when this happens, the day when we die and sin has it’s last hurrah with us, flattening us with one final blow. Then, for a while, we stay down but when we, by the grace of God, get back up again it will be forever and there will be no more stumbling, falling, or collapse. In a weary and tiring world the knowledge of this is an enduring hope.
that I sin.
Now I wish that wasn’t the case. I wish I had whatever it takes to live in such a way that the crazy stuff of the world doesn’t bleed over into my life to the point where I become part of it myself. Despite what you may see on the television, doing anything you want any time you feel like it is a kind of slavery, a life spent being trapped by perpetually changing desires. Those desires, for the most part, are easily twisted into dark things, love turns to lust, sustenance to gluttony, security to hoarding, the list goes on ad nauseam and giving myself to them makes me vulnerable to their captivities. I wish I was immune. I wish my life was centered, whole, focused, and not so easily captivated by things that have the capability to enslave and destroy.
Holiness, in the best sense of the word, is a beautiful thing. True holiness, I think, is not so much about a list of do’s and don’ts as it is about a direction of the entirety of a person’s existence. I suppose that when a person’s life is directed towards God there will be things they will and will not do but the point behind it is not so much a list of laws as it is trading something less for something better. Purity is a better thing than giving in to every carnal temptation. Living a life not captured by the ever-changing demands of a consumerist culture is better than being a hamster in a wheel perpetually chasing whatever the world says is the next best thing. There is a witness inside all of us, I think, that affirms the beauty of this kind of holiness even if we ourselves see no way to achieve it. Sometimes, perhaps more often than not, this desire for the beauty of holiness is expressed in a deep discontent with the world as it has become. I share this discontent, this desire for something better, more true, more real, and more connected to the Source.
Yet I sin, I miss the mark. Sometimes its overt and I know exactly what I’m doing and how it will lessen and degrade me. Sometimes its something that catches me unaware, a fault so ingrained that it seems a normal part of my life. Regardless, each incident illustrates how far it is I am from being in the place I was designed to be, of being centered, whole, and focused in God. Each moment is a reminder that the pain of the world is my own personal pain as well. Each act or thought or desire that is less than holy is humbling and exposes me.
Now I suppose I could just give in and say the whole idea of being holy is impossible or perhaps even redefine my vices as virtues and my sins as simply “Who I am.” It’s been done before and if I decided to follow this path I wouldn’t be alone. I could simply take that wisdom over time, those guidelines, the light that has lived in history, and relegate them to a quaint section of the museum like a horse and buggy. Perhaps long ago those things had some meaning, but in the face of my new enlightenment I can simply decree them of no further use and go on my way.
I could also give in to despair and, seeing the multitude of my own failings, decide there is no hope and nothing worth the effort. After all the evidence is in and if I have chosen to believe in the existence of things like “sin” and “holiness” there is more than enough in my file to convict me of being a sinner. In the face of this evidence it would be easier to just give up and perhaps see life as just a few moments of fleeting happiness floating in an ocean of brokenness.
The truth is that I can’t do either. I’ve seen enough evidence in my own experience of the reality of sin and brokenness to know that simply denying or redefining it does nothing to change its reality. Sin, brokenness, human struggle, imperfection, all of it can be made legal, redefined, baptized, and turned into canon but the reality of it, and its consequences, will still be there. The degradation of it will occur even if we deny the existence of the cause and a lie often repeated remains a lie that will, in time, be exposed for what it is. I’ve also seen enough of holiness, small lights in the darkness, to know that it is a good and desirable thing even if I am so far away from it myself. Just as redefining my sins and struggles as “normal” does nothing to take away their reality or their consequences so, too, the reality of holiness and its value are not changed by the fact that I am often far from its essence.
I, then, have no choice but to struggle. The reality of my status as one who sins is clear and so is the eternal beauty of holiness. In my broken state I have an instinct for sin and yet, by the grace of God I also have an instinct for holiness. While I live I will struggle between the two, a sinner who desires to be something else. I will fall, often, and yet I also cannot give up on the idea that I could be something much more than I am at any given moment, something more like God. My hope is that God in His mercy sees me and understands this more than I can even imagine myself and in His goodness will lead me safely home.
‘ We must always remember that we are not condemned for the multitude of our evils, but because we do not want to repent and learn. And those who have sinned must not despair. Let that never be.’