This post is based on Week Three of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.
Growing up, I understood sin to mean being “off the mark” or “off target.” I have an image of an archer lining up to shoot the arrow, which when released, abruptly lands on the outer edge of the target perimeter. I missed.
And so it is with sin, particularly in my personal relationship with God. If I believe that God dwells within me and is my innermost core and center, which I do, then I am “off the mark” and “off target” every time I ignore God’s voice within me, urging me to love, to be honest, to be grateful, and to do that which is right and just and which brings life and fulfillment to others and me.
It is in this way that I can see that personal sin not only impacts me, but all with whom I come into contact. Sin, at its core, is about relationship, or the break in relationship.
To explore this thought further, I recently caught up with a friend, who also happens to be a Jesuit priest. Fr. Andy Hamilton, SJ, is a well-known writer and a deep thinker. I asked him whether he knew of any good reflections, poems, or other writings that eloquently described the nature of sin. He had no books to recommend, but he did share, in his words, “a few simple ideas.”
I think that the best images from a Christian point of view describe sin in terms of breaches of relationships between people, between people and themselves, between people and the world of which we are part, and between people and God. All those relationships have a proper form of respect that considers all relationships and not just the ones immediately involved in an engagement. In sin these relationships are breached by greed, arrogance, rage, resentment, contempt, fear, lack of due attention, and so on. Because respect is the natural expression of love, sin is always a failure to love.
These last words struck my heart like an arrow: Sin is always a failure to love. And I see its impact. Sin primarily touches our relationships to ourselves, others, and our world, and destroys possibilities of flourishing that would have been there had we not disrespected them.
In light of this reflection, I have been doing an audit of the relationships in my life. Where am I “off the mark” or “off target” when it comes to loving others and God? Where have I been disrespectful or cruel, or have allowed fear to prevail? Instances come to mind. And so it is that I continue to pray for the grace to recognize sin in my life and to overcome it, to ask for God’s (and others’) forgiveness, and to give thanks to God that I continue to be loved and encouraged, despite my sin.