If we ask the average person this question, most will answer that sin is a bad thing we do. Stealing is a sin. Adultery is a sin. Murder definitely makes the list…oh yeah…isn’t there a list of deadly sins somewhere? (Proverbs 6:16)
Every religion talks about sin but the idea of wrongdoing goes beyond religion. When we play sports, drive, or go to school we follow certain rules of fair play and breaking them diminishes humanity. The concept of sin is universally understood.
Behind sin is the assumption that people “ought” to behave a certain way but they don’t. Once “oughts” or “shoulds” enter the discussion we cross over into ethics. Everyone has ethics.
In religion, sin is always a violation of the playbook. In Hinduism its (Dharma), in Islam (Qur’an), Judaism (Torah), Christianity (Bible) etc.. Atheists hold to morality and while they may not use the term sin, they recognize and live according to a standard of right and wrong which is relative to the individual not a playbook.
All systems understand sin and have a plan for dealing with it.
The majority view sin as a mistake and believe God isn’t concerned with small ones. Most religions teach that wrongdoing is overcome by good deeds in a system of balance. Rituals, prayers, austerities, mantras, all surround and define the purification process. Atheists believe they must do better in the future and move on from previous mistakes or failures. The goal is for good to outnumber the bad.
Christians think they know sin better than most. This is because modern Christianity has capitalized on a sin management system. The storyline is that a punishment for sin had to be paid so God sent his son Jesus to die for the sins of humanity. The modern church has leveraged this into a personal transaction which determines that only believers are forgiven, until they sin again. This creates a feedback loop I call shampoo Christianity: sin, wash, repeat.
What if it’s way bigger and better than these?
My PhD in ethics was on the subject of sin (Hamartiology). In it I ultimately proved that sin is the design of love. Sin is not merely an external thing we do, but the negative space given off by our positive humanity. In short, sin is simply non-faith (Romans 14:23). Sin is the opposite of faith.
Cold does not really exist. It only exists because heat (which can be measured) actually exists. Cold is diminished heat or non-heat. Air conditioners and fridges don’t add “cold”, they remove heat. The same is true for darkness. Darkness is non-light. We can’t add darkness to a room, we can only remove light. Likewise, badness is non-goodness and now we understand sin.
Sin doesn’t really exist except for the reality of faith. If we agree that we all sin then it is only possible if we are all people of faith. The teachings of Jesus move us beyond the external rules and unfortunately sin is not corrected with good deeds. The bible teaches we can do the right thing the wrong way and it’s sin (Luke 18:11-14), and we can do the wrong thing the right way and it’s not sin (1 John 5:17).
Sin is an inside job. The rule breaking doesn’t make us bad, instead, the bad (non-faith) in us makes us break the rules (Mark 7:21-23, Romans 7:13). External solutions can’t fix internal problems, they only expose them.
The solution then is faith not belief. Religion often equates faith with belief, so if you are Muslim you have to believe Mohammad is the true an final prophet of God and follow the 5 pillars of Islam. If you are Christian you have to believe Jesus is the son of God who died on the cross for your sins and follow the bible. If you are Hindu or Buddhist then you have to believe all is Maya (illusion) and follow the Dharma. Faith goes beyond the institutional framework because it too is an inside job.
After a year of debate, my thesis committee accepted my proof that God is the architect of sin. There is great beauty in a design where the infinite is pleased to dwell in the limited, broken vessel of our humanity (2 Corinthians 4:7). This is depicted so well in Jesus story. The Maker best displays light by shadow. Thus the sin of the world is the work of Love because it is a benevolent reminder making it impossible to go through life and miss God or our purpose. Faith is the non-dual ability to see light and not only shadow.
Sin remains NOT because there is no God, but because God is infinitely more glorified by our struggle with sin than its removal. May that give us all a moment of pause and a sense of peace and liberty in our humanity.