The Problem with Sin

The problem we have in the Church today regarding sin is that we keep calling it evil.

Don’t worry, I’m not joining Matthew Fox and talking about ‘original blessing’ here. Rather, I’m joining St. Thomas in saying that men only desire the good, and for something to be a sin, we must will it, and we only will what we desire, thus there is good in sin. Or, more properly, the aim of the one sinning is a good, even though his actions are not.

The contemporary problem is, essentially, that everyone who sins, particularly in their desiring of the sin, knows somewhere within them that what they desire is good. That idea is rooted in human nature. When we talk about sin, however, it is almost always couched in language that points out the evilness of sin, rarely the goodness of the object. Thus what happens is we create a disconnect and cause ‘bad’ guilt.

Contrary to popular opinion, guilt is a good thing when rightly understood. We feel guilt in response to doing something wrong and it is the force that aids us in seeking restitution for the wrong and in avoiding it in the future. Healthy, ‘good’ guilt is precipitated by a sin, an act of the will.

‘Bad’ guilt, on the other hand, comes not in response to an act of the will but to a desire. It is the guilt we feel when we are attracted to something we think we should not be attracted to, when we feel the urge to perform a certain sin, etc. Since many of us have simply been taught that sin is evil, we do not have a grasp of the good which sin is trying to pursue and we develop this ‘bad’ guilt in addition to the ‘good’.

Cultivating a negative response to desire contributes to the idea that Christians hate the physical world, oppose anything fun, and wish sex to be as unenjoyable as possible. If we can relearn that, while sin itself is evil, its object is always something good we can reclaim the proper understanding of our desires. We do not let them rule us, as they are still fallen and may lead us into sin, but we will no longer fear them, no longer despise their existence, no longer misunderstand their urges. The heart of man’s desire is God and the gifts he has given man in this world, and until we rest in this we shall endure much unnecessary pain.

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