The muck underneath

by Don Hartness

(For the analogy leading up to this post, click here.)

Before I get into explaining the analogy in my previous post, let me ask you a question. What do you think of when I say the word “sin”?

Chances are, you think of a specific action that is often labeled as a sin: murder, theft, adultery, and so on. So often, the word morally tied to a set of “do’s” and “dont’s”. If you aren’t religious, you may believe that religion labels just about every action under the sun as sin, rendering the definition moot.

Can I say something?  With all due respect, most of you don’t have the foggiest idea of what this word means.

“Sin” is one of those words so abstract as to be almost indescribable (“love”, “faith”,  and “will” are other examples). I could write a philosophical treatise on this word (as many have done) but that would be beyond the scope of this post.  For now, allow me to provide a working definition, one that is better understood by contrast with another abstract word:

If “love” is the thing you do that you know you should do on someone’s behalf, then “sin” is the thing you do that you know you shouldn’t do.

Note the removal of morality from the above definition. Sometimes, a wrong action cannot be adequately specified in a moral law. In these situations, circumstances may play a factor.

As an example, a person who murders another is guilty of wrong-doing.  A person who murders another in self-defense may be absolved of wrong-doing. However, if a person who knows a better action (say, peaceful resistance, even at the risk of their own life), and does not exercise that action (choosing self-defense), then (s)he may be guilty of sin, even though (s)he is absolved of wrong-doing, because their conscious testifies that (s)he knew a better way, but did not exercise it. In short, love pointed to a better way, but fear led to sin.

With such a wide-reaching definition, who can claim they haven’t sinned? It’s not only what we actively do that harms others, it is also what we passively fail to do on behalf of others.  Both cause damage to others (betrayal, physical harm, and despair, among others) and ourselves (regret, shame, and despair, among others). The action is not necessarily the point; the negative effects on our mind, body, emotions, and soul is the point.

My dear reader, who have you hurt? Who has hurt you? What are you now grappling with? Welcome to the muck underneath your garden (as if you need an introduction…). Now, what do you do with it?

Our modern society has many tools that you can use to excavate the soil of your soul, digging down into the muck underneath. Religion and psychology are two examples. You can also forgo excavation altogether, choosing medication as a set of nose plugs.

In many instances, these tools are enough to allow you to function, even thrive. You can learn to let-go of the past, learn new behaviors, practice new cognitive patterns. However, each of us has at least one certain something from our past (and more, for most of us) that we have no solution for.  No matter what our efforts to overcome, it haunts us, causing disruption and damage in all aspects of our life.

My friend grieved from a non-specific pain rooted deep in her childhood, a pain that haunted her into adulthood. Gathering tools like one collecting stamps, she fearlessly learned to use every tool she found; countless hours and dollars on therapists, books, psychologists, self-help programs, and even medication. Professionals would marvel at her dedication to her healing, friends were astounded at her introspection, acquaintances at her breadth of knowledge.  I’ve met thousands of people in my life, but I have never found anyone so skillful in applying the variety of tools at our common disposal.

All to no avail.  When she got close to the muck, anxiety and panic seized her, for she knew, at a depth of understanding below the consciousness, that she had no answer for the muck she would find.

Why does the gospel of Jesus Christ continue in the face of so many contradictions and evidence against it?  Because that gospel includes healing; a supernatural force that can excavate the muck and remove it.  The miracles of Jesus were not so much about healing the physical body as they were about pointing to the far more profound healing of one’s soul.  Logic and reason can rightfully expose the placebo of Christian religion for the fraud it is.   But logic and reason is silenced in the light of personal experience, especially if that experience includes healing from the most severe wounds.

Until you’ve experienced it in such a profoundly personal way, how can anything that anybody says cause you to believe?

My friend was raised in an atheistic family that scorned the gospel message.  For them, religion was truly the opiate of the masses, a balm for weaker minds unable to cope with the reality of this life.  Consequently, my friend resisted any introduction on my part for this feeble belief system, preferring more sophisticated solutions, mostly rooted in science.  However, when she came to her wit’s end over the ruination of her garden, she found herself listening to a sermon speaking about the woman who touched Jesus’ garment.  A desperate person is willing to listen to almost anything, no matter how crazy it seems.

Today, she is a believer, and not of the religious sect bearing the same name. She would probably know any argument you could present against her faith due to her upbringing. If you were to ask her why she believes, she would not present any apologetic argument in her defense.

Instead, she would merely point to the ground. The muck is gone.