This …. changes everything: sin & shalom

Have you noticed the inordinate amount of attention that is given to concerns about sin at the intersection of faith and sexuality?  It seems to be a sticking point for so many. “But it’s sin.” With this short phrase dialogue can be cut off, attempts to understand can be closed, relationships strained, alienation experienced, judgement felt, and accusations, both spoken and unspoken, levied.

Is that all there is to this conversation?  Aren’t we all sinners?  Don’t we all sin – all the time?

How do we determine what is sin anyway?  It seems like things we used to think were sinful – simply aren’t any more.  Riding bikes on Sunday?  Buying a scratch lottery ticket?  Getting remarried after divorce?  Taking someone to court?

Or what about the reality that Christians disagree about what is sinful?  Join the army – or be a pacifist?  Save for retirement as a responsible citizen or give generously to the poor rather than storing up earthly treasures?  A “better safe than sorry” attitude that seems to foster legalism or a “freedom in Christ” disposition that seems to invite license?

And what about the picking and choosing that the majority of Christians do on matters that directly impact their personal life? Surely having sexual intercourse with a female partner when she has her period can’t be sinful – not when we have immediate access to the amenities of indoor plumbing to ensure cleanliness and good hygiene. One pastor told me that he was so sick and tired of the weak and flimsy arguments for full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the church – naming shellfish and polyester as two examples.  Because heading over to Red Lobster for shrimp fest is clearly no big deal but two same-sex oriented people covenanting to love and care for each other the rest of their lives, including the bonds of sexual intimacy, is …… well ….. in the eyes of many, unrepentant sin.

You’ve probably heard some different definitions of sin – adding to the complexity of the whole matter.  A common one is “missing the mark” – falling short of God’s best.  Another would focus on the result, “separation from God.”  Some quote the Bible and understand sin to be transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4) and rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 9:7; Joshua 1:18).  The dictionary additionally offers that sin is a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle or any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse etc.; a great fault of offense.

Neal Plantinga offers this understanding of sin:  “God hates sin not just because it violates his law but, more substantively, because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be.  God is for shalom and therefore against sin.  In short, sin is culpable shalom-breaking.” (A Breviary of Sin.  Eerdmans 1995 p.14 bold emphasis mine)

Shalom is the interconnectedness of God, people, and all of creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight – where there is universal flourishing and wholeness.

We are called to participate with God in cultivating shalom.  We are called to join in the reconciling and redeeming work of making things right.  This is the culmination of God’s loving desire for the world from before the beginning of creation itself.

When we live this calling, when we are attuned to both the reality of and the need for shalom, we are free from anxious sin avoidance – and engaged in living in the reality of the Kingdom of God, both here and not yet fully realized.

I don’t know about you, but my early years in the Christian community were marked by somber warnings, shame and fear-based motivation, and regular reminders of the torturous suffering my sin caused the crucified Christ.  The notion of total depravity, connected to the doctrine of original sin, emphasized that the human heart is “utt