What is sin? Often my secular friends will challenge me about sin, as if the word itself were deeply problematic. Even Christians often shy away from it. It is a hard and uncompromising word.
I like to think of sin as “what gets in the way” of my relationship with God, with myself, with others and with all of God’s creation. What does get in the way of all of these relationships? For each of us our areas of sinfulness will be different. Some people may find themselves trapped by fear, others by envy. The desire for meaning may become misdirected into a need for more and more things, or the desire for love be warped into an obsession with sex.
In my own life some of the worst “things” that have gotten in the way of my good relationship with God and others has been rooted in my own poor self-esteem. When I allow my negative self- image to dominate my life it has all sorts of consequences for others and me. I normally cover up feeling inadequate with a shell of “I know what I’m doing”, which keeps me from being myself with God in prayer as much as it pushes others away. I don’t want to let anyone see my vulnerability and so I close in on myself.
Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical Laudato Si’, has highlighted the sinfulness inherent in our relationship with creation. When we see the world around us as something to be used up and squandered, then we are not in right relationship with creation, which speaks to us of our Creator and Lord.
Finally, there is the aspect of choice. As I have grown I have become more aware of sin in my life. With every new psychological or intellectual insight I have the choice to act or to just know the insight. Jesus challenges us to live freely and in so far as we are able to use our insight and understanding to help us to choose to be better, ultimately trusting that he has freed us for eternal life.