In theology, and in all of church practice, there is a continual and universal nemesis to the work of good in the world: Sin. If we were to draw a narrative structure onto our system of dogma and doctrine, Sin would be the bad guy, the sinister villain who is constantly engaged in disrupting the order of things, introducing chaos onto that order.
Our understanding of Sin dictates how we engage life. For many of us, we’ve grown up with an understanding of sin that is defined in terms of positive and negative actions: Do this, don’t do this.
The effect of this is heightened when we consider our desire for definition. We like things to be contained and identifiable, and our overarching desire for this is amplified when it is applied to something as important as that narratological enemy, sin.
As much as possible, we define what sin is. What is strangely disturbing about this is that this is not how the bible defines sin. While there are elements of “what” is sin in the bible (for instance Cain killing Abel), when we consider the story of the Fall in the garden alongside the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, we see that sin is primarily defined as “How”, and that defining sin as only a “what” is a dangerously thin understanding of sin.
In the garden, it is not the desire for knowledge that leads to sin, it is the desire to circumvent God’s intentions for how that knowledge is acquired that leads to the fall. Likewise, Satan’s temptation of Jesus follows the same theme: In each of the three temptations, Satan tempts Jesus by offering Him a shortcut to what was obviously God’s intended end. “Turn these stones into bread” Obviously, God intended for Jesus to survive at this point: To die then would have been diametrically opposed to God’s desire. But to bypass God’s how to stay alive would have been sin. Likewise with the other two. Of course Jesus was the ruler of the world, but not like that. He wasn’t going to demonstrate His divinity in that way, but in God’s way.
This understanding of Sin as a “How” and not only a “What” has tremendous implications for us as Christians. Of course God wants peace, but how we go about achieving that peace can be just as sinful as ignoring God’s demands for peace. How we say what we say says more that what we say.