I remember walking out of the movie theater with great disappointment.
This time it wasn’t the hype. I wasn’t super excited because of everything I heard. This was that experiential disappointment that comes when a good movie feels trapped in its own illusion. The kind where there are many ways to end it if you have a broad sense of the world. But if you see the world through a particular lens, there is only one way it can end.
Because I don’t have that view, the movie Se7en was instantly in the top 3 most disappointing movies of my life.
I suppose I should say: spoilers! here.
Clearly the end was that blend of clever and inevitable. You could see it coming if you knew what the seven deadly sins were. You knew where it was going and what the killer was up to if you had any familiarity with the medium. And the hand gets tipped early enough in the sequence that the protagonists should’ve known. They should’ve prepared.
The filmmakers knew we’d figure it out. They knew we’d be just ahead of Mills. Walker and Fincher were banking on it. Because they were banking on the sense that you’d do it, too. You’d take revenge. Always. 100% of the time. They were trying to make you into a killer.
For many, this is how we become exposed to the idea of sin. Movies or TV. Those of us who don’t grow up in the church or come from a tradition which hardly talks about sin, anyway.
Many others hear it alot. Like, A. Lot.
- Some come from traditions which preach a sort of sin management.
- Others come from traditions which spend most of their time praying for all those other peoples because they are full of sin.
- And still others come from a tradition of listing what counts as a sin and then instructing you not to do any of them.
This is the idea of sin as plural. Sins. A lot of sins to keep track of. Lots of sins to find yourself doing. All these ways we prove to God how horrible we really are.
We talk about it as a singular, but it is always one of many. Always something to deal with and try not to do. Your action. Your responsibility. Don’t do it.
- Lying is a sin.
- Stealing is a sin.
But then we expand the list to all sorts of groupings and behaviors and types of people we don’t like and we declare that their very way of being is just dripping in sin.
- We try to say prostitution is a sin. Strange how Jesus seems to hang out with so many in the field.
- Or homosexuality. Or transitioning. Even letting one’s wife work outside the home. Sins all of them! So many sins! It’s everywhere!
When we refer to sins, we get so particular, so granular, that it becomes about actions in their abstract. Things we can do or not do. It’s about judgment and responsibility. It becomes a test of people’s character and who they are. We stop thinking about mercy for them and start thinking about judging on them.
In other words, whenever we talk about “sins” we stop thinking about God and start thinking of ourselves.
What is Sin?
Sin is not about us. Not only about us.
At its core, sin is about relationship. Our relationship with God and with our neighbors. Sin is the fracturing of that relationship or the breaking of community. It’s not the thing just because it’s the thing. But what the thing does to our relationships.
Some communities abstain from alcohol. Awesome.
Many do so, not because they see alcohol itself as evil. But because alcohol seems to have a way of hurting relationships. Whether it’s because those who abuse alcohol also abuse their loved ones or because it’s something which gets in the way of their relationship with God. In that way, the alcohol causes the problem; it isn’t the problem.
But given that, is drinking a sin?
I’ll let you decide that one. But that isn’t the only way to look at it.
Sin in the singular is a noun. It’s a thing. It may be the thing. What we mean by Original Sin. Or when we speak to the darkness which Jesus as the Light came to dispel.
Sin then is not some things to be counted up and individualized to weaponize as a Jesus hit squad of sin condemnation.
It’s the obstacle, barrier, or state of being separate–a chasm dividing us from each other and from God.
The longer I live, the less I can handle talking about sins in the plural. The less I can handle calling something A. Sin. Like it’s a shopping list. Let’s check off what we’ve got. OK, I see two cans of infidelity, ooh, three jars of stealing, seven boxes of extortion, and oh my…how many bags of lies can we fit in this cart?
If Sin is about relationship and separation and division, it isn’t something so minute, nor is it ultimately useful to be so judgy.
Sin (as separation) is deadly.
Not only in the literal, murdery sense. But in the spiritual life-destroying sense.
My favorite story of sin is also my favorite story of mercy and redemption. And that, by the way, is not a coincidence.
It is the story of a man who has two sons. One needs to run away, so he does. He severs his relationship with his father with a great falling out. His Dad is dead to him. He runs and squanders his wealth. And comes home, not looking to be a son again, but to be a slave. And his Dad welcomes him like the dead rising.
On the other hand, the man’s other son feels neglected and distant. He isn’t even told that his brother is alive. Or that Dad is planning a big party. He’s pissed. Like righteously pissed. He storms off and his Dad goes to talk to him.
We know this story of this merciful father by another name. One fixated on the younger son. We call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son. But it isn’t only him.
That name, though is revealing. It shows how we see it. And who we trust in it. In fact, the narrator doesn’t tell us that the younger son ran off with prostitutes. That comes from the older, jealous brother. The one who has a reason to hate him. To not trust him. Who is likely to judge him and tell lies about him.
Sin killed the younger brother.
But it was repentance which brought him back. And it was mercy which redeemed him.
Sin. Repentance. Mercy.
But the story doesn’t end there. It reveals a second sin. One by the older brother. He’s breaking away from his family. The back door may as well be a chasm of the man’s own making.
And Jesus leaves it on the cliffhanger. Making the hearer decide what happens next.
For a certain fatalistic approach, there is only one answer. But unlike that other film, this story leaves its resolution open-ended. Because that side of the equation is on you.
* * *
This is from a series on Choices. We have plenty more choices to make!