The Pointing Finger of Sin

I, like many people, do not like to directly talk about sin. No one likes to be told that they are doing things that are morally wrong and going against the will of God. Most people’s reaction is who the hell are you to judge me, by what standards and authority are you judging me, and how do you know what the will of God is?

I suspect that this has been the attitude of people throughout history, but today’s postmodern dependence on relativism and personal experience may heighten this reaction. It reminds me of a line from a Sheryl Crow song, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.”

I was following up on an opinion posted on another website by wjklos about my post on Contraception and Sin and found the following comment there:

[That is] one of the many reasons I left the Catholic church at the age of 15. They are just too weird about sex!

And as a part of a married couple that does not plan to ever have kids, I’m glad we are sinning in their eyes! Hallelujah! 🙂

This person, like many people, assume that the Catholic church is pointing a finger at them, accusing them of sin. I admit that there are individuals in the church, as in every Christian denomination, who focus too much time and energy at pointing the finger. My personal stance on this follows the old cliché, “If I am pointing a finger at you, there are four pointing back at me.”

But this person, like many people, miss the point. To borrow a line from Mark Pilgrim, “Are you looking at my finger, or are you looking at where my finger is pointing?” When it comes to sin, many people get so caught up at looking at the finger instead of where the finger is pointing.

Where is the finger pointing? For starters, the finger is not pointing at the rules. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “People often think that Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’” The rules are important, but there is so much more to it.

The finger is pointing at us. The finger is pointing at what kind of persons we are. What is our character like? Are we virtuous, or trying to be virtuous? Perhaps that is why we look at the finger instead of where it is pointing. We really know, deep down inside in a place where we do not want to admit, that the finger is pointing at us instead of what we do. To quote C.S. Lewis again,

…what God cares about is not exactly our actions. What He cares about is that we should be creatures of a certain kind or quality—the kind of creatures He intended us to be—creatures related to Himself in a certain way. … And as long as a man is thinking of God as an examiner who as has set him a paper to do, or as the opposite party in a sort of bargain—as long as he is thinking of claims and counter-claims between himself and God—he is not yet in the right relation to Him. He is misunderstanding what he is and what God is.

The rules are a method to develop and transform our character, to turn us into “the kind of creatures He intended us to be”. The rules are like signposts pointing to what we should be like. Again, too many people cling to these signposts as the truth, and not a way to the truth.

Another way, as C.S. Lewis describes, is to pretend to be like Christ. To use his example, we do this every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. When we start with the words Our Father, we are putting ourselves in place of a son of God. We are “dressing up as Christ.” But of course, “the moment you realise what the words mean, you realise that you are not a son of God. You are not a being like The Son of God, whose will and interest are one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self-centered fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death.”

C.S. Lewis goes on to say,

The Christ Himself, the Son of God who is a man (just like you) and God (just like His Father) is actually at your side and is already at that moment beginning to turn your pretense into a reality. This is not merely a fancy way of saying that your conscience is telling you what to do. If you simply ask your conscience, you may get one result; if you remember that you are dressing up as Christ, you get a different one. There are lots of things which your conscience might not call definitely wrong (specially things in your mind) but which you will see at once you cannot go on doing if you are seriously trying to be like Christ. For you are no longer thinking simply about right or wrong; you are trying to catch the good infection from a Person. It is more like painting a portrait than like obeying a set of rules. And the odd thing is that while in one way it is much harder than keeping rules, in another way it is far easier.

In the end, it is not about the rules. It is about who you are. If you feel the finger of sin pointing at you, it is a reminder—are you becoming the being He wants you to be?

Footnote: By the way, the next line in that Sheryl Crow song is, “If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?”

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