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Synodal teachings about sin

I imagine that the Synodal Church will need to review her teachings about sin in order to clarify certain things and to make these teachings understandable for everybody.

Definitions

I suggest the following definitions.

sin

An act, statement, thought, attitude, position, belief, habit or behaviour that we assume to be wrong, i.e. against the Will of God.

personal sin

A sin carried out by an individual human. Also called individual sin.

collective sin

A sin carried out by a group of humans. Also called social or institutional sin.

original sin

An unavoidable sin. Something the sinner cannot change, something we must accept as such and which we have to live with. Something we cannot expect the sinner to repent.

guilt

The fact of being responsible for a sin. Being guilty means that you are called to repent.

Note the differences between feeling guilty and actually being guilty.

accusation

The fact of saying that somebody is guilty.

You can carry out a sin without knowing it, or you can be aware of your sin without seeing how to repent.

Sin versus crime

In historic texts the word sin is sometimes mixed up with the notion of crime. But a crime makes sense only in common law that has executable power. It makes no sense to speak about crime against divine law because no human institution holds executable power.

crime

An act that is forbidden and punishable by common law.

Recognizing sins

Only God knows whether something is a sin or not. But in our desire to avoid sin, we try to define rules for recognizing them. Some examples:

A sin is when you deliberately harm somebody.

A sin is when you turn the mirror of your heart away from God.

Classifying sins

The following criteria apply to both personal and collective sins but can have different conclusions depending on whether they are personal or collective.

  • Which law is being offended (civil? moral? natural? divine? …)

  • Who suffers (the sinner himself? somebody else? many others? …)

  • How severe is the problem? How big is the damage done?

  • How much personal responsibility the sinner has (guilt).

We define sin as everything that is against God’s plan. We can recognize a sin by the fact that it harms somebody1. Personal sins can be a single action, a recurring behaviour, an attitude or belief. Collective sins can be laws and teachings.

Christians dare to speak about sins because we believe that God forgives them. This applies to our own sins as well as to those of other people. Our own sins are the only ones we can –sometimes– change directly, but they are the most difficult to see. The sins of other people are theoretically “not our business”, but speaking about them is important because they can show us our own sins.

Footnotes

1

Note the difference between “to harm” and “to hurt”. Your dentist can hurt you by causing a temporary pain when removing the actual cause of your pain.