Sin is “the culpable disturbance of shalom.” That’s what theologian Cornelius Plantinga says. And it make a bit of sense. Shalom is the way things are supposed to be. It’s an ancient Hebrew idea about peace. But not just the absence of conflict. Shalom is more about the flourishing of all people and all things, living life courageously in harmony. It’s not so much John Lennon’s “Imagine,” a sort of unreachable utopia without any rules. Shalom is about God’s vision for an inclusive, healthy world where theres enough food, we can go to sleep feeling safe, everyone will make rent, and folks will find meaning and purpose in their lives. Oh, and our water and air are clean and, yes, lions and lambs will lie down together and cats and dogs will not have to worry about a warm place to curl up and sleep all day.
But sin? It makes a mess of things.
A lot of us are may be caught up in the laundry lists of “thou shalt nots” we’re told to avoid and feel ashamed when we commit. There used to be an old saying that boys should not “drink, dance, chew or go with girls who do.” That’s an old school mentality that we can laugh at now but maybe wreaks more havoc on our daily lives than not.
Maybe you feel like you’re just a summation of all your bad deeds, misgivings, or proclivities. Or even harder, your addictions or seemingly unbreakable cycles.
One of the first stories in the Bible is a story about a man and a woman who do something they’re not supposed to do. They’ve been warned by God: you can do anything you’d like, but don’t eat from the tree of knowledge. But a serpent comes a long and convinces the woman and the man to eat from the tree of knowledge - some say it was an apple, maybe it was a pear, we don’t know. All we know is that all hell breaks loose after they eat the forbidden fruit.
Their eyes are open, they notice their nakedness and feel ashamed. And then they hide - a bit from each other perhaps, but most definitely from the Divine. Of course, nobody can hide from the loving eyes and concerns of God and they are eventually found. There are consequences for their choices, and here we understand a bit what this whole “sin” business is about.
Sin is about rebellion, hiding and making poor choices.
We see this personally when we make a bad choice. We also see this collectively when communities, cultures, corporations and even countries make sinful choices.
Shalom - or the way God’s dream for earth as it is in heaven - is disturbed when we make poor choices.
Thankfully, our choices and sin aren’t the final word - grace is. Because God is always moving us forward to a way of love, light and justice in a world run amok with bad decisions.
Grace is that gift freely given despite who we are or what we’ve done.
500 years ago Martin Luther set off a Reformation of the church when he nailed his 95 Theses to the church door of his local congregation in Wittenburg, Germany. It set off a revolution of ideas about God and humanity that we’re still living out. One of Luther’s primary ideas was that we were freely given the gift of grace by a God of love and ultimate justice. And in this justification - being set free by God - we’d always be working out that reality as sinners, people falling short of the shalom of God.
Luther wrote this down in Latin as “Simul Justus et Peccator.” We were “simultaneously justified but sinners,” or as Nadia Bolz-Weber likes to say now, “we are saints and sinners.”
Nadia goes on:
“God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God's grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word ... it's that God makes beautiful things out of even my own shit. Grace isn't about God creating humans and flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace - like saying, "Oh, it's OK, I'll be the good guy and forgive you." It's God saying, "I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.”
St. Paul, around 20 years or so after Jesus walked out of that tomb in Jerusalem, talked about the universal notion of our sinfulness and our saintliness when he wrote some wisdom down in a letter for the early Jesus followers in Rome.
For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus… - Romans 3
We are more than our brokeness and poor choices - we are not just sinners. We are saints. And in this glorious gift of love we are emboldened to break poor patterns and live our lives for others, as Christ showed us. What’s helpful are practices - in order to root us in a pattern of love lived out for others.
When Jesus gave us the “Lord’s prayer,” it wasn’t just instructions on how to cover the bases in prayer - it was wisdom for a life pursuing the heavenly here on earth. Forgiveness is the key - we pray “forgive us our sins / debts / transgressions” as we look to forgive others. There we find one of the secrets of the universe: to break the cycle of sin so as to get back to pursuing the dream of shalom.
Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber
“On The Freedom of the Christian” by Martin Luther
Also! Watch The Man In The High Castle (Prime Now) or Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and ask yourself are the good guys totally perfect or do they distrub shalom sometimes, too? And maybe some of the “bad guys” are catching glimpses of shalom despite it all?