Friday, February 24, 2012

Lent, Sin, and the Holy One

It is now the season of Lent for the Christian Liturgical Calendar. A time to reflect upon our finitude and mortality: we came from the dust of the earth and to dust we shall return (Gen. 3:19). It is also a time to reflect on the 'inner' health of our hearts, often penitentially. Thus, Lent can be a time to reflect upon our propensities to behave in ways that break down relationships with God and others. In a word, Lent is about sin.

Nadia Bolz-Weber had a great post recently expounding her affinity for Ash Wednesday because it allows her to talk about sin. And indeed Lent is about sin. I fully embrace my propensity to sin. And I think God does too. This is what makes Lent so meaningful to me. It isn't a season of self-deprecation and self-loathing. Lent is a time to get real. And that happens when I get real about who I am and who God is.

There is a common misconception that God is so holy that God cannot even look upon sin. People often say that this is why there is darkness on Good Friday: because God had to abandon Jesus because of the sin. Really?

If there was one person in Jesus' day that seemed to espouse this idea it was Peter. In Luke 5 Peter goes out into a boat with Jesus and, after catching a boatload(!) of fish, Peter says, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" And because Jesus is so holy he leaves Peter alone until Jesus could go and die for Peter's sins.

No. Actually that's not what happens. Jesus remains with Peter. Jesus, the Holy One of God, stays close to Peter, the sinner.

For me, Lent is a time to be real about who I am. But I can never be truly real about who I am until I am honest about who God is. And the God that who is revealed to the world in Jesus of Nazareth is the God who comes close to the world. And God does this not despite of sin, but because of sin. God is the Holy One who embraces us in the midst of sin. Jesus is the friend of sinners.

Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners - John Wilbur Chapman

Jesus! what a Friend for sinners!
Jesus! Lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.


Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Hallelujah! what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.


  1. A soul encouraging essay, Josh. Lent is one of the healthiest seasons of the Church year, as you interpret it. Self flagellation "isn't my thing," as we say. But we all need to face who we really are to have any hope of wholeness. And it would be even scarier to face who we are if Jesus weren't a friend of sinners. But after decades of studying theology, I still can't get my arms sufficently around the idea of sin to my complete satisfaction. It is larger and deeper than any single act; and yet, it is smaller and harder to root out than any virus. If God is love; and we are made in God's image, then is sin love gone awry in self-centeredness...? The acts we call sins merely follow the distortion and add to it. Sounds Augustinian, doesn't it?

  2. Indeed it is Augustinian (and Lutheran). And rightfully so I would think. After all, thousands of years have past and the human consensus seems be that sin is unhealthy love of the self.

    I appreciate your reference to the Imago Dei. If we are "cracked eikons" (as Scot McKnight puts it), then sin is not only a distortion of love, but also communion [because God is community].

    So I tend to agree that sin is some kind of distortion of love that results in broken relationship. Perhaps this is why Jesus' command to love others AS we love ourself is the ultimate remedy to sin?

  3. Excellent point: And beautifully said, Josh. Loving the other as the self extends the self for the restoration of community among humans; and here's a possible eschatological piece: (Barthian) Jesus reveals the humanity of God, and God in God's humanity (Jesus) embodies the fellowship that restores all to community,"on earth as it is in heaven." What are the implications of not really meaning the prayer, as evidenced by our actions, "thy will be done on earth...?" A very Lenten question. (I feel as though I am looking through a glass darkly. I'll quit typing.)