Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Are All Sins Equal?
Most Christians instinctively believe that all sins are equal in God's eyes. This, no doubt, stems from our understanding of sin as something that separates us from God. We are taught that any sin, no matter how small, separates us from God. In salvation terms, that is sound Christian doctrine, but still, the belief that all sins are equal in God’s eyes makes little sense to me. If they were, that would make us humans more just, if not more intelligent than God. After all, our legal system differentiates between petty theft, speeding, and murder. We even have gradations of murder – 1st and 2nd degree murders. We don’t believe that all crime is equal in the eyes of the law. So, do Catholics who believe it is a sin to use birth control believe that God considers birth control as wrong as murder? (Actually, I’ve heard some morally confused Catholics argue just that, but I consider that helping to make my point.) Do Jews who believe it is a sin to eat non-kosher food equate doing so with committing rape? Do evangelicals who believe it is a sin to gamble (I don’t believe it is), believe that God views a night at the blackjack table as sinful as abusing a child? It is sad when religious people depict God in a way that renders Him less intelligent than his creations. Sure, we humans think that murdering a family is worse than taking a stapler home from the office, but God doesn't!
The Bible seems to be clear when it comes to the hierarchy of sin. God detests the deliberate infliction of unjust suffering on fellow human beings. There are some legal differences between the Old and New Testaments, but they agree that God hates evil and loves goodness. “Love your neighbor” is the great rule in Judaism, and, along with love of God, is the central rule of Christianity. God did not destroy Noah's generation because they ate forbidden foods or took home cheap objects from the workplace. He did so because it was violently evil. So to discern what the greatest sin is, we begin with it having to do with evil actions towards other people. There is one category that I believe is worse than any other - evil committed in God's name. In John 19:11 Jesus told Pilate that those who had delivered him up (the Jewish religious leaders) were “guilty of the greater sin.” Doesn’t that imply lesser sins, and by correlation, lesser punishments?