The Myth of Private Sin

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A friend of mine did something really, really bad a couple years ago.  Real bad.  Not “illegal” bad, but… bad enough that even this week, it showed up on page two of a metro newspaper, a thousand miles away from where he did it.

I love this guy.  He’s fun, smart, and fairly new to Christian belief.  He’s accepted responsibility for what he did, and he’s had to live with it every day.  He told me the other day he was sorry even I was having to deal with it now.  “I’m amazed how many people this has affected.  One stupid, wrong decision I made and it keeps affecting so many people.  My wife, my kids… it just keeps going.”

And so it does.

We marveled at that, and just stood there quietly, shaking our heads.  Amazing?  Yes.  But not really surprising.

The older I get, the more convinced I am there is no private sin.  Oh, they don’t all wind up on page two, but the surface of the pond is never undisturbed by the pebble.  The ripples always move beyond ourselves; sometimes through generations.

Another example:  One day, you’re a minister getting in a quick ego-stroking flirt, thinking you’re in some kind of private soap opera… and soon, there are 300 people in a flourescent-lit room, on metal folding chairs, discussing what you did.  And they’re cautioning each other not to judge you, and then they talk some more about what you did.

And then some kid you don’t even know, like my daughter, has to hear some stranger talking in church about how the pastor-guy won’t be back, he did something called “sexual misconduct.”  Your soap opera?  Yeah: It wasn’t private.

Sins on the computer aren’t private.  Larry Ellison, from Oracle, said many years ago:  If you think he doesn’t know what’s on your hard drive, you’re kidding yourself.  By the way, Google knows, too.

But even if they didn’t know, the sins in your head aren’t private.  Mine affect my attitude.  They keep me from being concerned about other people.  They make me a jerk, in seemingly unrelated ways.  (“Why’s Brant a jerk?”  “Probably something seemingly unrelated.”) My sin turns me inward, distorts my judgment, and inflates my self-importance, even if that importance manifests itself as self-hatred.

There simply is no “private sin”.

Turns out few things have done more harm than the “do no harm” ethic.  The as-long-as-it-doesn’t-hurt-anyone-else construction of morality is built atop the swamp of affluence.  We afford this lie, because affluence loves not only privacy, but the fantasy of it.  But like the 77’s said, “The lust, the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life — drain the life right out of me.”

And then… I’m not the person I’m supposed to be.  I’m less creative.  I’m less joyful.  I have less social energy.  My patience is gone.  I care less about my neighbors.

Private rebellion.  Public consequence. The Satanic Bible encourages us to “Do what ye will and harm ye none,” but that’s a naive delusion at best, and a deadly lie at worst. What you do shapes who you are, and who you are – and who you could have been – matters to others.

By the way, back to my friend: If it seems unfair that what my friend did was so horrible, but what you or I do (if only in our minds) is somehow not so horrible – well, you agree with Jesus:

There IS no difference.

Jesus says he came to that we might have life. Maybe sin is “sin” because it drains the very life from us, whether it’s on page two, or hidden from view.




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