Things aren’t always black and white. Sin is not a word that has only one specific meaning.
Sin can mean simply to miss the mark, where one may have a good heart but not understanding. Or, as in the Christian community, it most often means one does not just sin, but one is born to sin — a miserable sinner.
To have a good heart and simply miss the mark is not possible to those who think only in black and white; there is a sinner, period. To these black-and-white thinkers mitigating circumstances, not having understanding, has no merit, no consideration. Grace, unmerited love, is also not an understood word by black-and-white thinkers, those who believe the Bible is inerrant.
So what is the agent that may contribute to these misunderstandings by black-and-white thinkers? Often, it is none other than biblical scripture itself. In scripture we discover opposed teachings. And herein lies the problem with our systemic Christian culture, presently the predominant culture of our nation. The inerrant biblical thinker makes no effort to reconcile these differences.
Paul writes in his letters to the Romans that “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). James, however, calls this the opinion of a “senseless person,” countering that “faith apart from works (of the law) is dead” (James 2:26).
The Apostle Paul sometimes directly contradicts Jesus! Paul writes, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). But in the gospel of Matthew the author quotes Jesus as saying, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Here the black and white thinker, not accepting the warning, sees only and acknowledges only Romans 10:13. This black and white thinking, I would suggest, lacks understanding. Therefore the black and white thinker has committed, heaven forbid, sin.
In reading scripture one finds that Paul, the self-described apostle, shows almost no interest in his letters of Jesus of Nazareth the man, or Jesus the Christ! The Apostle Paul does not narrate a single event in the life of Jesus. Nor does he ever quote the words of Jesus except for the Eucharistic wording, “This is my body …” Jesus the man, “not everyone who says ‘Lord Lord’ shall enter …,” is as important as Jesus the Christ.
Jesus the man is given no more credence than Jesus the Christ in the systemic Christian culture. Polls by Barna Group (an evangelical Christian polling firm), and others, show there is almost no difference between Christians and non-Christians in the way one conducts one’s life. If we are not to emulate the man, the way he conducted his daily life, then where are we, what are we? No man can ultimately deceive God, who sees the heart.
When Simon Peter saw it (Jesus teaching from the boat), he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Many systemic Christians would say, “Here is self-condemnation in these words.” These words are black and white, but is this really so for those who truly seek God, who think differently than superficially?
Who is there that cannot remember the effect upon one’s self of some personality immensely better than himself or herself? It is then we begin, as Peter, to truly see ourselves as we really are, not as a miserable sinner, but as one having a disquieting moment. This specific disquieting moment is then recalled over a lifetime and, as a follower of God’s word, positively built upon. One’s humiliation is then one’s hope. This kind of understanding, that humiliation brings hope, seems beyond the black-and-white Christian thinker.