BANNED QUESTION: Are some sins worse or better than others?

Are some sins worse or better than others?

(From the book, BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE by Chalice Press, edited by Christian Piatt. Order either BANNED QUESTIONS book on the Chalice Press website during the month of March, enter the promotional code “BANNEDMAR” at checkout and receive a 40% discount.)

Nadia Bolz-Weber:

It’s important to recognize the difference between big S Sin and little s sins.  Big S sin is the human state of being “turned in on self” without a thought of God or neighbor.  Big S sin is putting ourselves on God’s throne and not allowing God to be God for us.  The fancy Latin that Martin Luther used was se encurvatus en se.  The self turned in on the self.  That is that state of big S sin in which every human being on the planet lives.

Little s sins are the result of big S sin.  But even if someone managed to pull off not committing little s sin they would still be plagued with big S Sin.  Yet a lot of Christianity tries to come off as a way to avoid little s sin so that you are progressively sanctified until – poof – you are without big S sin.

For the record, Lutherans such as myself do not think this is actually possible, even though it sounds real nice. This is why a lot of other Christians don’t like Lutherans, but that is another story entirely.

Now, back to the question.  Are some little s sins worse than others? Yes. Are some little s sins better that others? No. (Leave it to a Lutheran to make something a paradox). But here’s the thing: the sin of murder is more harmful than the sin of, say, stealing a salt-shaker from Denny’s. But the big S Sin of the sinner who stole the salt-shaker is no less than the big S Sin of the sinner who killed another sinner.

Being Christian does not mean that we follow a really great Sin Management Program. It means that we confess that the grace of God is sufficient.

…if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.[1]

-Martin Luther

Gary Peluso-Verdend:

Yes, but first let’s define sin. In the U.S., we tend to think of “sin” and “sex” together. That pairing is most unfortunate, both for a healthy understanding of sex as well as a healthy understanding of sin. This limitation of “sin” to “sex” and, secondarily, to some vices (e.g., gambling, drinking, smoking) leads us Christians to over-attend to sexual sin and under-attend to other areas of sin.

For example, in a recent national election, most Americans polled did not understand war as a moral issue.

Sin is a condition of broken relationship, the act of breaking a relationship, living in broken relationships, and acting in ways so as to perpetuate a broken relationship. By this definition, murder is sin, insulting a colleague is sin, and passing laws that perpetuate injustice is sin. I’ve heard some interpreters quote Paul to the effect that, since “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” all sin is equal. Paul’s statement might be rightly used to argue all human beings are sinners but not that all sins are equally weighty. Catholic moral theology has long argued that some sins were more (mortal) or less (venial) severe.

Certainly, murder is a worse sin than stealing a piece of candy. Abusing a child is a worse sin than flipping off the driver who cut you off in traffic.

Consider this principle: the more people are affected, the more permanent are the negative consequences, the deeper and broader and more irreparable the broken relationships, the worse the sin.

Joshua Einsohn:

Well, some sins are a lot more fun than others!  (Rim shot, please!).

I’m not really one to worry about the afterlife. If there is one, I think everyone pretty much has it wrong. A favorable judgment isn’t going to come from specifically taking, say, Jesus into your heart. Taking love into your heart, sure. But all the exclusionary rules that fall under the category of “sin” are far too inconsistent to be what actually happens.

I have to believe that the sin of stealing your stapler from work isn’t going to compete with the sin of hypocrisy. I have to believe that the people who claim to do God’s work by making miserable the lives of those who are different from them aren’t really allowed a free pass when it comes to cleansing their conscience.

Even within the Ten Commandments, some are quite obviously good guidelines, but some are a little hazy. Don’t kill anyone. Don’t take shit that’s not yours. Don’t lie.  Stop checkin’ out your neighbor’s firm butt because you might try to do something about it.

Solid advice. Telling your buddy that the hideous item of clothing that they’ve fallen in love with looks good on them…well, yes that’s bearing false witness, but it comes from a good place, so that’s gotta be ok, right???

The whole “sin” thing seems to be on a sliding scale to me, but I’ve always operated under the idea that all sins are not created equally and that the best we can do is avoid the big ones and try to learn not to commit the smaller ones…often.


[1] Weimar ed. vol. 2, p. 371; Letters I, “Luther’s Works,” American Ed., Vol 48. p. 281- 282

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://chanceman4.wordpress.com chanceman4

    Wow, tough topic. If God sees the heart and not the outside, then maybe it is not the action, but the motive behind the action that He is more concerned with. That is why all sin would be hated by God and considered equal…because it destroys our hearts and keeps us captive. So whether we steal a salt shaker, a car or another person’s spouse…it all comes from the heart that is acting on its own self-serving desires (which are opposite in nature to God’s desire). Just a thought:) If you get a chance, please come and check out my site at chanceman4. My name is Chris Chance and there is a link on my blog to listen to my CD, “Following You” featuring “You” and “His Prints Are in the Sand” (based on the Footprints poem). Also you can go to http://www.noisetrade.com/chrischance. You can download any or all of my songs for the price of your choosing…pretty good deal…you can even get them for free, as long as you put in an email address and zip code. We are trying to get this project up and moving, so anything you can do and any way you could pass it on would be greatly appreciated.Hope you enjoy and are blessed by it!!!!
    Thanks and God Bless!
    Chris

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