These days, the word sin is considered kind of ‘sinful.’ The secular world finds it entirely offensive, since they consider every human behavior to be natural and therefore appropriate. The religious world, ever more sensitive to offending anyone these days, often veers away from discussions of this fundamental part of Judeo-Christian theology. (No wonder. Any mention of sin gets believers smacked down as hateful and judgmental.)
We are often asked, ‘why is it wrong to do x y or z?’ For example, why should adultery be a sin, when it is committed between consenting adults? Why should fornication (a word so underused as to be almost an etymologic antiquity) be considered wrong when it is between two consenting…well, sometimes adults, sometimes adolescents)?
Let’s pause to recognize that when we say there is ‘no such thing as sin,’ our culture usually means ‘no such thing as sexual sin.’ We tend to agree that theft and murder are wrong. We accept lying if it is expedient. We absolutely deny that any inappropriate thought or motive can be considered sin. All of those are consigned to mental illness or to neurobiological dysfunctions.
So why is a thing wrong? Well, in the case of adultery, it is obvious that even if the adults consent, others will be wounded. Try as you might, your spouse’s attorney won’t be interested in the ‘consenting adults’ argument, and your spouse will not buy the ‘nobody gets hurt,’ argument. Furthermore, your children will simply be wounded. One can dismiss that as one is able, but the research abounds on the effects of divorce on children…and it’s not pretty.
But all that aside, why should any sexual sin be ‘wrong?’ This is at the heart of many objections to Christianity. That is, it places prohibitions on certain behaviors. Behaviors that others very much want to enjoy.
Of course, we have learned over time that there are costs. Diseases such as HIV or HPV (and associated cancers at times) are prevalent. Herpes is epidemic. Chlamydia leads to pain and infertility. Multiple ‘hook ups’ leave people feeling disconnected, dehumanized and depressed. The list goes on. So, before the era of modern microbiology, infectious disease research and psychology, someone (a very, very long time ago) recommended that humans not behave in certain ways.
And yet, there may be more. I recently had the thought that the human soul must at least as complex, if not more so, than the human body. After all, from a Christian viewpoint, the body is temporal, but the soul eternal. It should make sense, therefore, that we must attend to issues concerning our souls and avoid sins (actions, thoughts, attitudes) that cause the soul ill health. In much the same way as we attend to our physicality.
Sometimes, I suspect, we are told not to do a thing because frankly, we aren’t prepared to understand the full reasons why we shouldn’t.
Example: If my daughter, when she was two, was about to touch a hot burner on the stove, I would have stopped her. When I did, she might have asked ‘why not.’ I could have then launched into a physician’s discussion of skin layers, thermal injury, delayed healing, loss of function, proloned therapy, pain, infection, recovery and all the rest. But I would have said, at that point, ‘it will hurt you!’ She would have been satisfied then, though now she might want more depth.
I believe that many of God’s prohibitions are like that. Why not? Because it will hurt. Because it will kill. One day, when our hearts and souls, and minds, are ready, we’ll understand. Until then, we have to trust that the rules set down for us have validity, for now and eternity.
If we don’t, we will simply find ourselves burned; over and over. And wondering why we didn’t listen in the first place.