I've noticed something about sin lately. We seem surprised to discover it happens. This is probably old news to those wiser than me, but I just picked up on it. I told a friend a few weeks ago, "I know people are sinning. I just don't assume they're the people I know." What a dangerous outlook!
I've noticed three types of this surprise:
- Surprised by sin in general. This seems to be when we like to duck our head into the sand and pretend sin doesn't exist. Oh sure, everybody needs Jesus because sin does exist. We just live like it doesn't. For instance, we like to think we live in a wonderful free society that is moral and true. Then we ignore the millions of unborn we have killed. We say porn is bad, and then ignore the adult entertainment store going up on the corner.
- Surprised by the type of sin. This is when we're surprised by the type of sin. Maybe we've accepted the fact that sin, in general, exists. But surely nobody is actually looking at porn! And it is ridiculous to think any of the people we know might be engaging in fornication. Nobody would kill children; that's just crazy. These sins are just worse than all the other ones and surely don't happen.
- Surprised by the people. This is the thought that the person you know would never sin. Like the Catholic beliefs on Mary, this individual is free from sin. Or perhaps we might acknowledge they do sin, but they're really minor sins. They'd never do that, whatever that is. We can even do the same to corporations or people - know anyone who once thought our own government wouldn't spy on our phone calls?
Why is this so important? This is not a case of "what you don't know can't hurt you." Other people sins do hurt us. It hurts our families. Our families' sins hurt us and each other as well, and we have a responsibility to notice when things are going downhill and take action. And this type of thinking can lead us to believe our own sin doesn't exist, hurting our families and our communities. The consequences now are horrifying, but the eternal consequences are, well, eternal. Ignoring it does not make it go away.
There's also the problem this line of thinking causes when we finally do wake up and notice sin is or has happened. Are we too shocked to do anything about it? Is our response to a (fellow) sinner in need affected by our blindness? Think of a fire in a big building. With warning, the fire might have been prevented. With no warning, the fire spreads, and the people may be so overwhelmed and confused to do anything about the fire or even escape. This is the very definition of being caught off guard.
Sin actually does exist. All the sin exists. It isn't new, it isn't rare, and it isn't minor. We may live in a culture that tells us sin doesn't exist, but we know better. We cannot forget this point.