“The great benefit of the doctrine of sin is that it reintroduces responsibility for our own behavior, responsibility for changing as well as giving meaning to our condition.” – Paul Vitz
How can we flourish as human beings and thrive in our relationships? You can find as many answers to these questions as there are pop psychology books in the self-help section of the local Barnes and Noble. Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is a classic in the field, and one that I’ve personally found helpful, with time-honored ideas like “begin with the end in mind” and “sharpen the saw.” This genre offers everything from mindfulness to meditation, yoga to yoghurt, self-knowledge to stress-reduction, creativity to connecting with others, diminishing distractions to discovering your truest self.
What I doubt you’ll find is many self-help books that encourage you to take seriously the Biblical idea of sin, with its related practices of self-examination, confession, humility, worship, and forgiveness. I suppose some of this may be due to our aversion to some of the ascetic excesses of the medieval past that bordered on self-abuse. But I think a bigger reason is that our human pride is offended by the notion that we are sinners at all, that we are chronically self-obsessed and self-aggrandizing, that we might stand in need of anything resembling God’s reconciling grace or empowering Spirit.
So how might taking our sin seriously contribute to our flourishing as human beings and thriving in our relationships? First, by forcing us to acknowledge that as humans we have flaws, blind spots, unhealthy inclinations, and narcissistic tendencies. All of these flaws can diminish the quality of our relationships and interfere with our human flourishing. Clearly seeing our true condition is the foundation for any personal growth—just ask any member of AA! Second, taking our sin seriously teaches us to live by practices that help us grow and change, practices such as the self-examination, confession, humility, worship, and forgiveness mentioned above. I don’t know of a healthy relationship that doesn’t include the practices of confession and forgiveness. Third, understanding our own sinful nature helps us see our fellow humans with new eyes. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.” When it comes to sin and the capacity for evil, there is no “us” and “them”; there is only “us.”
As a local minister, I long to see people flourish and relationships thrive within our congregation and our community, but not at the cost of denying the reality of sin in our world, our institutions, and our own hearts. May we see that the best of human flourishing comes from living in loving harmony with God’s wisdom and by loving our human siblings.