Monday, March 25, 2013

Sin and the Fate of the Earth

I it was denied thee; 
I crucified thee.

When elephants are being slaughtered to the point of extinction in Africa, it can seem a bit narcissistic to contemplate one’s own seemingly less minor sins. But to neglect such personal self-examination would be to misunderstand the very nature of sin. For the same greed which leads criminal gangs of poachers, just last Thursday, to murder 89 elephants in Chad, including 33 pregnant females, dwells in my own heart.

It manifests in ways other than hacking off elephant tusks to fuel the lucrative Asian ivory trade, but the greed arises from roots in me that are the same in those poachers. The wealthy Chinese who imbibe some of this ivory, in powder form, as an aphrodisiac are enhancing the same lusts that burn in me when I seek some stimulant in fantasy or visual form to artificially hype up my own sexual desires. My sins may not rise to the same grandiose and destructive heights as theirs, but we are bound together in the same powerful web of sin.

It is astonishing that “sin” is such an unpopular word, granted that there is so much of it spoiling human lives and destroying the world — for “sin” is the word for whatever spoils the goodness of life, and destroys the fabric of health in the body, relationships, societies and the world. Write it large in red, or black, or shocking pink across every newspaper front page every day of the week.

I do not mean, in saying this, to fall into the trap of believing human nature is totally corrupt, but anyone who does not recognize that we all have in us the seeds of corruption hasn’t noticed much about either life or themselves. The rabbis have it right: made in the image of God, we are capable of both good and evil. All of us. Every day. But because the world is so dotted with spectacular sinners—sex traffickers, hate-mongers, political liars, elephant murderers, climate change deniers, child abusers—I can easily make light of my own less newsworthy bursts of greed, arrogance, unwarranted anger, self-serving lies, and minor resentments against others.

In Holy Week, Christians sing hymns that often assert that we crucify Christ: I it was denied thee, (not just Peter), I crucified thee (not just those high priests, those Romans, or the screaming mob). We do this because it is, quite simply, true. Christ is the symbol and embodiment of God’s own goodness in human nature and the world. The ways we allow our “unruly wills and sinful affections” to compromise, undermine, and destroy the fabric of the world all contribute to crucifying that goodness.

The place to start in pondering our sins is not with our own small selves, but the world God loves—and then to smell out where we are contributing to its malaise, however unwittingly. And then try hard to figure out how we can lessen the sinfulness of our footprint.

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