Sin and the Bible

Sin and the Bible

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

It is an interesting question to put to ourselves: how large a book would the bible be if all the texts referring to or centering on the issue of sin, were removed? Of course, part of the answer to this question depends on how the issue of the bible we use was printed: the size of the print, the thickness of the paper, etc. But, in any case, we know that the bible is a large volume, heavy and inconvenient to carry, so some of us (at least, those of us who are Christians) prefer to divide it into two parts, popularly described as the Old Testament and the New Testament, but, nowadays, sometimes referred to as the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures.

But, even in this latter case, should we take the divided bible as an example, we know that the volume in question is large, the Hebrew part of it especially, of course, which is larger than the Christian portion.

With this as our reference point, we revert to our opening question: how large would the book in question be, should we excise every verse dealing with sin? Chances are that it would be a very small volume indeed, even should we be thinking of both segments taken together, as they usually are (for Christians).

We may ask, in surprise: how can this be? How is it possible that the book we venerate as containing the word of God for us be so intertwined with the unlikely topic of sin? Is sin of such interest to God that He devotes that much attention to it in the bible, recording a message on the topic, for us? Doesn’t it seem that God would have much more to say to us than to concentrate so intently on the sin topic: things about Himself, His heavenly abode, His plans for us, His Godhead, His attributes, His love? How can sin be such a focus for God that a large percentage of the biblical verses recording His message to us should be dominated by such a dour, dark and depressing topic as sin?

Curiously enough, in our Catholic liturgy for Holy Week, specifically, at the Exsultet hymn sung during the biblical readings assigned for the Easter Vigil (Holy Saturday) part of the service, we hear the cantor sing: O TRULY NECESSARY SIN OF ADAM, DESTROYED COMPLETELY BY THE DEATH OF CHRIST! O HAPPY FAULT THAT EARNED SO GREAT, SO GLORIOUS A REDEEMER! This seems very strange language for so sacred and holy a religious service.

We might expect to hear ourselves being bawled out by God for our wickedness and stupidity in doing wrong, but this kind of laudatory and jubilant language? Who would have thought it? Well, those of us familiar enough with God know that He obviously wants to be appreciated by us as a God of mercy, more than in any other way. Of course, He certainly appreciates being recognized by us as a God of Goodness and Holiness and Wisdom and Power and Beauty, but as One Who seems to “wink” at our devilment and downright meanness and pure evilness? But this is how He really shows His greatness to us, His majesty, His infinite difference from the way we are, by moving beyond the darkness enshrouding us and seeing us in terms of our baptismal birthright as His (adopted) children. This is our shining glory. It changes our status in His sight. So He’s happy to overlook our dark side and rave about the “silver lining” that peeks around the edges of the dark cloud enveloping our earthly sojourn.

So despite the little foibles of Adam and Eve and Cain and the people of Noah’s generation and the builders of the Tower of Babel and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and King David’s minor mishaps all the way up to Pilate and Judas and…. (we can go on for quite a while)—sinners all, despite all this, or perhaps because of it all—we learn more about God as He wants to be known: as a merciful and loving God, than we ever would if we only heard about His many fascinating attributes. Besides, these episodes make for interesting reading.

Indeed, the bible would be a very small book if we eliminated all these references to sin. It would fit nicely in one’s purse, or back pocket. But, then, who would want to read it?

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