Reliable moral bearings for a changing world

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Several years ago, the film "Seven" posited a chilling punishment for committing one of the seven deadly sins. While many people today probably can't name them all, some believe they sentence the violator to eternal damnation.

In a forthcoming series described as "entertaining books on the history of sinning," Oxford University Press explores whether or not envy, gluttony, greed, sloth, pride, lust, and wrath still mark a sinner (see www.oup.co.uk/isbn/0-19-515699-4).

It may be that measuring sin by the seven deadlies is out of favor, but perhaps they were never the consummate moral barometer. While they continue to hold fascination for many, there is no biblical reference to these particular ones. Instead, the so-called deadly sins were identified as the source of other sins by early writers and theologians. Finally, the list used today was articulated by St. Thomas Aquinas during the 13th century.

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The Bible, in fact, provides excellent navigational equipment for gaining moral bearings. The Ten Commandments, later condensed to Christ Jesus' two commandments, are sufficient for any occasion.

These simple truths don't require embellishment. Whereas the Mosaic law is presented in the "Thou shalt nots," through his two commandments, Jesus points to what is our privilege to do: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matt 22:37-39).

If one thoroughly lives these two commandments, is there any room for sin? Hardly! If sincerely practiced, they eliminate the need to debate the usefulness of cataloging the seven so-called deadly sins.

The promise of devotion

Mary Baker Eddy saw the promise of such consecrated devotion when she wrote in "Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures": "One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself;' annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry, - whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed" (pg. 340).

The one perspective I've found most helpful in the whole question of sin is this passage from Psalms: "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace" (37:37). Most theories regarding sin start from the perspective that we are sinners and must struggle throughout our lives to overcome that fact.

What if, on the other hand, you and I were to start from the perspective that we were created upright and perfect and that the pathway of walking in that realization lies before us? Wouldn't that effectively allow us to change our focus from forever trying to stop sinning, to appreciating and building on what is right about us and in that way do what's right?

This point of view needn't cause one to sweep wrongdoing under the carpet, but methodically to gain dominion over it. In training children, the most effective approach is to create a love for good and build on that rather than to try to rectify every little mistake. Couldn't that also be true for each of us?

I've found refuge in considering sin from the standpoint of its Greek root, sina, which means "missing the mark." This less foreboding definition takes the grip out of sin and encourages me to identify and correct whatever deflects my focus from God or good. It turns my attention from the endless guilt and self-flagellation associated with sin to the goal of discovering my true spiritual selfhood and consequent inseparability from God. Again, the Bible is a great guide: "The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light" (Luke 11:34).

Not condemning, not condoning

One of the most effective tools in dealing with areas where I miss the mark is to turn as quickly as possible from the problem to the solution. The course for doing so is neither to condemn nor condone the mistake. If one condemns it, there's a tendency to hold on to it by identifying with it.

On the other hand, if one condones it, it may not be corrected. Instead, one can regain sound footing by keeping the eye single - focused on a perfect God of grace and His perfect handiwork. In that way, each of us can be lifted out of a darkened, sinful concept to a consciousness of light - a pure, stainless selfhood.

Though often disregarded, the Mosaic law and Jesus' two commandments are not out of fashion or invalid. It's one's privilege to rise to their occasion by embracing one's own innate perfect selfhood. In doing so, the weight of identifying oneself as a sinner is replaced by an unshakable peace.

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