A World without Sin

Imagine a world without sin. Perhaps it’s a world where no one needs to lock their doors because there is no one to break in, steal, and cause harm. Maybe you envision roads filled with happy motorists who have neither cause nor inclination for an excess of annoyance, let alone rage. Some of us would delight in a newspaper with no stories of war or crime. Evening news broadcasts and internet news feeds would be filled with stories of kindnesses shown, help extended, and needs met, if—for no other reason—because that’s all consumers of news are interested in or drawn to.

As wonderful as those visions may be, the world without sin that I imagine is far different, and sadly, all too real. It’s a world not where sin doesn’t exist, but where it is almost never acknowledged. It’s our current world, where the great majority ignore the reality of sin, and those of us in the minority that do recognize its existence, minimize its importance, especially as it relates to the sins we commit.

The world that is “virtually without sin” that I see is one where almost no one acknowledges sin, and when we do, we aren’t motivated to do much about it.What was once a near-universal acceptance of an objective right and wrong has now become for most of us our definition of what is right and wrong to us. In the hyper-individualized society that I often decry, one of the most damaging results is the attempt at an individualization of morality. I sin only when I betray my standards of what constitutes sin.

You and I can pretend that this trend has not been strong enough to influence us, but I believe the question is not if it has but rather to what extent. While it would be easy enough for us to rail against the disappearance of morality in the non-Christian world, even many in the so-called Christian world in the modern era have gone the same route. Church communities “evangelize” others, not by declaring the truth of the gospel, but by boasting of their acceptance of all lifestyles, casualness of worship, and emphasis on prosperity and happiness for all. It’s no wonder so many churches won’t even display a cross – in many “theologies”, there’s no need for one.

While it would be easy enough for us to rail against others, we hear the instruction of our Lord who teaches us to take the log out of our own eye before trying to take the splinter out of another’s (Matt. 7:5). So the question for us is do we live in a world without our sin? Our Orthodox Christian spirituality is centered on the continuous work of repentance: the recognition of sin in our lives, the repentance from it, and the ascetic efforts to strengthen ourselves against it as we work towards the virtue proper to followers of the Christ.

Today we begin yet one more fasting season: the fast leading to the Dormition of the Theotokos, celebrated on August 15. Like in all fasting seasons, we are encouraged to follow a discipline of restricted eating, both in type and quantity. Most of us know this is to regain lost levels of discipline and the maturity to forgo short term pleasure in order to achieve long-term growth. What we all seem to forget is that a fast is proclaimed as a time of mourning: we see clearly that we do not live in a world without sin, but rather we see ourselves surrounded by sin—our sin. And in seeing the sin in our life, in recognizing the poor choices we have made by exchanging God’s goodness for cheap and profane alternatives, we have one rational response: we mourn. Unlike our ancient ancestors in Judaism, when a fast is proclaimed we no longer don sackcloth and sit in ashes. But a fast is still a time for self-reflection, recognition of the sin in our lives and a re-dedication to be rid of it. The rest of the world has spent too much time pretending sin does not exist. But then again, so have we. Let’s seize the opportunity of this short, two week fast as the time to mourn the all-too-real sin we bring into the world. If we can do that, maybe—just maybe—instead of bringing more sin into the world, we can bring only that which is good, true, and beautiful. If we can do that, then maybe others can too. And the more of us that do, the closer we get to living in a world that is truly without sin.