A person I know recently did something that turned out to be pretty tragic for his family. I’m not going to go into the specific nature of the event, but let’s say it was rooted in dishonesty – perhaps investing in the stock market, using money he and his wife had earmarked for their children, or something of that nature.
I’d like to wander through the progression of realizations about the event. He approves; I’m not using any names, and I’m not describing the actual act he committed – although the sin is fair game.
The circumstances: his deed was revealed, fairly clearly. Not completely. The act was not directly harmful – in fact, using the stock market example above, he might have broken even or even made some money. The problem was that the act took from his family – the money was used and not immediately accessible when it was desired – and he was not honest with his wife about the use of the money.
He admitted his fault when pressed about it by his wife. However, her trust was broken. He’s got to deal with that, and it’ll take him some time because he’s had issues like this before. This isn’t his first rodeo with this particular problem.
But why? How does he go from a decent fellow, to doing something like this – which turns out to be far more poisonous than it otherwise might be?
Here’s his thought process, as I understand it.
His first act was denial; he denied his sin to his wife, directly. “Nope, didn’t have any chocolate, not me, why would you think that?” — with chocolate smeared on his hands and face.
After he got over that — “Well, okay, maybe I did have some chocolate” — he denied it again. To himself.
That second denial was the interesting bit about the whole problem. He said that he thought his wife was overreacting; okay, the trust issue was sincere, but really? Nobody was hurt, they didn’t lose any money, and no police were involved. In a lot of peoples’ eyes, it would have been nothing – people do this sort of thing all the time, and it’s fine. No harm, no foul.
But as he thought further about it, he realized how wrong he was. He was following a sort of Egyptian Book of the Dead recital: “I have not murdered; I have not stolen; I have not coveted; I have not cursed the Name; I have borne false witness, but that is the extent of my sin.”
But he was wrong.
For all intents and purposes, he did murder, he did steal, he did covet, he did profane the Name. He sinned; James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Failure in one point brings the weight of all of it – and Romans 6:23 says that the weight is death, eternal separation from God.
That’s why we need Jesus; if sins were not equal when it came to our salvific relationship with God, then we might not need Jesus at all – maybe we’d just commit tiny little sins here and there, and we wouldn’t quite get the sin-o-meter to read “unsaved.” So we’d sort of slide into heaven.
But that’s not the way it works. Sin is sin; James says clearly that if we sin in any point, we are committed to Hell in ourselves; Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Now, some would argue that there are greater and lesser sins. In a way, they’re right. Paul often refers to sexual sins as being more awful than others; the Torah also refers to “high sins” and “low sins,” such that the restitution for trespass is different. (One sin might lead to the sacrifice of a dove; another, a ram; another, a bull. Different “levels of sin,” if you like.)
However, we have to remember that there are (at least) two perspectives at work here. one is God’s perspective: how does He see sin? The other is our perspective: how do we see the sin?
A “high” and “low” sin is our perspective. If we see limited actual harm in an act, that’s a “low sin,” if you like. That’s sort of like a misdemeanor versus a felony; stealing $15 might be a misdemeanor, but stealing $15,000 is a felony.
God, however, sees either “sin” or “no sin,” and therefore all sin is “high sin.” You either trespass or you don’t. How far you trespass isn’t important; it’s like being a little bit pregnant.
So this fellow had sinned, and all sins are grievous. But he still didn’t actually murder, or steal, did he? After all, it was his money. His sin might be equivalent, according to James 2:10, but not so much according to other verses, right?
Well, the core realization he had was that the “not so much” was incorrect.
He did murder. He did steal. Perhaps it was abstract – he “murdered” his wife’s trust in him, but Jesus said that one who sinned in his heart has committed the deed.
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28 ESV)
His denial was part of that: by saying “But it really wasn’t that bad,” he diminishes the actual sin. He demeans his wife’s feelings, and the impact his acts had on his family.
So… what now? He’s sinned. He’s guilty. He’s wrestling with that guilt, which is part of how I know about it; he’s struggling to give his guilt to God.
The reason is the impact it has on his life; he said he feels like he needs to hold on to that guilt in part as a natural consequence of his action. The truth is, his sin is forgotten as soon as he repents and gives it to God – but at the same time, for us, his sin might never go away, because the consequences of that sin leave a scar that may or may not heal, in God’s time and Will.
It’s a tough problem, and he’ll have to pray about it, as I will pray for him.