Tuesday, March 19, 2013

In The Wrong

David Fay, Executive Director of USGA (regarding the US Open at Pebble Beach 2010): "I think two players used the word ‘awful’ on Thursday. Phil (Mickelson) said he putted awful. Tiger (Woods) said the greens were awful” (Sports Illustrated).

Theologians use two terms to describe the human condition: total depravity and original sin.

Total depravity means that sin and selfishness touch the totality of our being. If sin were blue, some would be bluer than others, but all of us would be some shade of blue all over.

Original sin doesn’t mean that we sin in innovative ways. (Most of my sins are dull and unimaginative.) It means that we’re sinful in our origins. As David put it, “I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). We are thrown into the world like a baseball with a hard spin on it and in due time we break down and away.

Sin, thus, is both extensive and intensive: We are, as Luther said, “dust and ashes and full of sin.”

I find that hard fact to be most useful when I’m in conflict with a brother. No matter what my friend has done or has not done, I have, in one way or another, contributed to the problem. The first step toward reconciliation, therefore, is repentance for, given the human condition, to some extent, I am always in the wrong.[1]

I came across a psalm the other day that underscores that notion: David begins his prayer with a complaint against his detractors: “Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; they are mighty who would destroy me, being my enemies wrongfully” (“I did nothing wrong!), but he quickly changes his tune: “O God, You know my foolishness; and my sins[2] are not hidden from You” (69:4,5).

This is how prayer works, or so it seems to me: We begin by justifying ourselves before God and blaming others and are led by God’s Spirit to examine our own conscience. We acknowledge the beam in our eye—“I putted awful”—the first step toward reconciliation with others (see Matthew 7:3-5). This is what Christian theologians regard as the “paradoxically auspicious (promising) nature of sin,” for only when I became aware of my true and unworthy self, can other, better possibilities emerge.

David Roper

[1] This is what T.S. Eliot called “an enduring sense of sin.”  But coupled with this is the enduring knowledge that we are fully and freely forgiven in Christ. "When a man or woman repents and humbles himself, there is (God) to lift them up and that higher than they ever stood afore!" (Old Souter in MacDonald's Salted With Fire. It’s the fact of eternal, preemptive forgiveness on the basis of the cross that enables us to freely admit our sins.
[2] Hebrew: ’asma (guilt)

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