The Reality of Everyday Obsessions
Image by Jeffrey Workman
THE PROBLEM OF SIN
How well do we really understand sin?
In teachings on sin, we often oversimplify sin and its consequences. We say things like, in short, “it’s okay to be angry, just not to hate someone — and if you do hate someone, then you’ll burn in hell for eternity. (Unless, of course, you're one of us, in which case you'll go to heaven instead).” In reality, we don't seem to understand much about sin, hell, heaven, eternity, nor God's true heart toward us. We don't have it totally wrong, but we don't have it totally right either. We might just have to go back to the beginning and do some spring cleaning with our theology, keeping what rings true and tossing out everything else. Only... where do we begin?
Well, defining sin really is a good starting place because it's more or less obvious - everybody understands that people make mistakes, and that people also do bad things that are most definitely not mistakes, so sin is just a way of defining something universal. On the one hand, "sin" has become a sort of buzz word, with very little meaning for most people alive today, but on the other hand, it's a concept that can't be omitted from an honest conversation about God's relationship to people.
The truth is that every situation is complex and unique. We do what we do in this life for real reasons, even when we struggle to understand those reasons. So, instead of trying to break down every sin and situation (including family sin, sinning on accident, letting somebody else sin, all of the layers and categories of sin according to various scholars, and all the different actions that could possibly be considered sinful), why don't we start with something simpler. How do we even define sin? Where does it begin and end? What even makes it, ultimately, wrong? Does it all have to be so nebulous?
It's simpler than we realize:
ALL SIN IS ROOTED IN OBSESSION
Arrogance ~ Envy ~ Lust ~ Wrath ~ Sloth ~ Gluttony ~ Greed
Arrogance begins as an obsession with one's own perceived value.
Envy begins as an obsession with another person's perceived value.
Lust begins as an obsession with pleasure and possession.
Wrath begins as an obsession with retribution or vengeance.
Sloth begins as an obsession with freedom from obligations.
Gluttony begins as an obsession with self-indulgence.
Greed begins as an obsession with money and influence.
These are the classic sins of the heart. Every sin of action comes out of a sin that started in the heart, and almost every sin of every kind is really just an attempt to describe the many ways that these obsessions play out in our lives. Put simply: these motivations are the things which lead us to do and say the things we feel badly about. Perhaps there are exceptions to this rule, as somebody somewhere will surely insist, but this is still quite a meaty list of things that we can tangibly see in ourselves and others, and these are areas where it's very possible to hold ourselves and others accountable.
When we are obsessed, we reach for what we want or attack what we despise, and all of our sinful actions are outgrowths of these attitudes. In each case, the sinful desire can grow and take on a life of its own, becoming impossible to satisfy, and we find ourselves trapped, maybe even wishing we could stop wanting or hating so much, but feeling totally wrapped up in those emotions. This is why scripture explains to us that we are "slaves to sin" - it's no metaphor. And it is only when we understand what tempts us to sin in the first place, and what can protect us from that temptation, that we are able to rip it out at the roots and become free. But why would we want to do that? What happens if we don't?
Well, as it turns out, there's a reason they call them the "seven deadly sins."
ALL SIN HURTS OTHER PEOPLE
Arrogance ~ Envy ~ Lust ~ Wrath ~ Sloth ~ Gluttony ~ Greed
Arrogance involves condemnation and culminates in betrayal.
Envy involves denigration and culminates in sabotage.
Lust involves objectification and culminates in domination.
Wrath involves vengeful hatred and culminates in murder.
Sloth involves neglect and culminates in abandonment.
Gluttony involves disregard and culminates in enablement.
Greed involves theft and culminates in exploitation. And what about lying? Well, lying is merely a tool used in all of these cases; suffice it to say, if you are being completely honest with everyone, including yourself, all of the time, you are probably not living in sin. Any kind of sinful obsession makes lying seem necessary, and if you live a life of love and honor, you simply will not find lying necessary. Sound insane? Don't worry. We're going to be diving in deep in future posts to untangle you from these things. Think of this first post as an introduction; a summary. Today, we're just trying to establish a way of thinking that makes some sense out of the dark and dirty things in our lives. In future posts, we'll be diving into each one of these dynamics and how to find your way back to the light.
Before we can dive in, however, we need to answer another question at the core of all this: Why do we do it in the first place? Why are we such a sinful bunch, we humans??
THE HIDDEN DAGGERS OF TEMPTATION
Pain ~ Fear ~ Vanity ~ Shame
Pain ultimately occurs when we have not been valued.
Fear ultimately occurs when we have not been protected.
Vanity ultimately occurs when we have not been held accountable.
Shame ultimately occurs when we have not been forgiven.
All of these things look a lot like what it means to be loved or unloved, don't they? In turn, each of these is a two-edged sword, because when we are valued, we learn how to value ourselves; when we are protected (in the right way), we learn how to protect ourselves; when we are held accountable (again, the right way), we learn how to hold ourselves accountable; and, when we are forgiven, we learn that we can forgive ourselves. Without being shown that love, we simply don't know how to love ourselves nor others in the right way.
So, how do we get from point A to point B? How do we change and become more loving, and more resilient against temptation? Less likely to fall into these sinful obsessions?
INVITING GOD INTO THE SITUATION
The Key to Change
When we are in relationship with God and allow him to hold our hearts, we flourish in the way our Creator always intended. Sound cheesy? Well, truth is truth, even when it sounds like a sermon or a greeting card. And the truth is that when God has been at work in our lives and our hearts, he addresses each of the very culprits provoking us to to sin in the first place:
Healing occurs when God restores our value and innocence to us (yes, it's possible).
Safety occurs when God vanquishes our enemies and teaches us how to fight.
Accountability occurs when God reflects our sin back to us (privately or publicly).
Forgiveness occurs when God accepts our apologies and deletes our criminal records.
When we know that we're fully loved, we can't help but to love those around us. And it's critically important to understand that God actually wants to have your consent before doing surgery in your heart and life. You will need to invite him into the specific situation where you are struggling, and ask him to help you. It could even start with something as simple as, "God help me." As long as you mean it, then it counts.
THE FINAL ANSWER
I'll say it again: Just ask God
Ask God to heal you, protect you, hold you accountable, and forgive you - and try to do the same for yourself. Every day. If there is one thing worth doing every day of your life, this is it. Ask for God's help every single time you need it, and he will always help you. There is no instance too small nor insignificant, because coming before God with a clean heart is so immensely valuable to him. YOU are important to God, and he actively cares how clean your heart is.
Eventually, you may find that you start coming to God with everything that is dirty or wrong in your heart just because, when you truly love someone, you want to give them everything. It might sound strange now, but that kind of crazy love is exactly what will set you free.
God really does love you. Simple as that.
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