Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reflection on What Sin Is

(I Chronicles 28:2-3) Then King David rose to his feet and said, "Hear me, my brethren and my people: I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God, and had made preparations to build it. But God said to me, 'You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war and have shed blood.'”

Here is David, the greatest king Israel ever had, the ancestor of Christ, the protector of Israel who expanded his kingdom into an empire, the mighty warlord, of whom his people used to sing, while they danced, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands”. (1 Samuel 18:7, 21:11, 29:5) Here is a “man after God’s own heart” (cf. I Samuel 13:1 4, Acts 13:22), yet God forbids him to fulfill his yearning to build God a temple.

Why? “Because you have been a man of war and have shed blood.” The shedding of blood disqualified him (as it still to this day disqualifies Orthodox men from service at God’s altar as priests). Never mind it had been the Lord Himself who had delivered all King David’s enemies into his hand; never mind he was a great hero precisely for that reason. It wasn’t that he had transgressed the Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”. For that, he could find plenty of legal and moral justification. But that still higher ideal to which the Commandment pointed, the ideal of peace, of non-violence, of loving your neighbor, and even your enemy, as yourself, was what David had so publicly and so flagrantly fallen short of, that for him to build God’s temple would not have been appropriate.

And this, for the Christian, is the very meaning of sin: to “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) – with or without legal justification for it.

I once had three ducklings in a pen in my front yard. That lasted only a couple of days before a Red Tailed Hawk swooped down. I saw him beforehand, high overhead, and rushed the ten feet to the enclosure to protect my ducklings, but was too late. Before I even got there, the hawk was soaring over the treetops with one of the ducklings. I spent the rest of the morning adding a top to the enclosure, and then, when the hawk returned, I dared him to try to get one of my ducklings. He stood outside the wire. The remaining two ducklings said, “Mama!” and rushed toward him. Inserting his talons through the chicken wire, he grabbed one. No, he couldn’t get it out. I had prevented that. He failed and flew away, frustrated. So what? The duckling was still dead! And it’s something like that with falling short of the glory of God. I may be newly forgiven and absolved, my conscience now clear; but I’m still standing far, far from my goal, from my God-appointed destiny of being conformed to the image of the Son. I’m still so short of glory. And falling short of glory, of God's glory, that's what sin is.

UPDATE: The Anonymous God Blogger has an interesting post on what repentance is. It wasn't, of course, intended as a companion piece to this one, but IMO, they go together very well.