Recently one of my ex-professors posted a blog about a church worship leader who at some casual hangout event dropped the f-bomb. If this wasn’t shocking enough, there was alcohol involved in the incident. My ex-professor presented a tactful call for holiness, particularly in leadership. Following the post were literally hundreds of comments calling for the worship leader to step down, or questioning his ability to do anything good or godly with such compromise in his life.
I restrained myself from commenting. I knew I would not add to the conversation, positively or negatively.
I believe that the fundamental issue was not about behavior modification, or the use of culturally unacceptable words or actions that we associate as sin.
I think we have the whole equation wrong.
The traditional argument has worked like this: God made man. Man made himself God. Man committed sin. Sin leads to death. Jesus lived without sin. Jesus died in the place of sinful man. Men and women that accepted this mental construct and surrendered their right to rule their life to a list of prescribed behaviors were no longer bound to pay for their sin.
The problem with this theory is that it puts all the focus on power of sin as the negative force within the equation. Humanity has spent centuries analyzing behavior to determine what meets a standard of being bad enough to be called sin. Man also fundamentally defined holiness as the absence of sin. Thus the pressure to understand what constitutes sin, and how to remove it from our life has been a prominent focus within Christianity. Furthermore, in periods of great evil, hate, racism, greed, abuse, and murder have been masqueraded as acts of making the community more holy (by removing the source of sin from our midst).
If we journey back to Adam and Eve, it is clear that prior to the moment of consuming fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that humanity had the ability to choose to fundamentally obey or disobey God. Choice to obey or disobey was not the product of sin. Rather, we see that the motive in the garden was to “be like God”. The immediate response to consuming the fruit was that Adam and Eve hid, used their skills to hide what they were ashamed of within themselves, and shifted blame when they were confronted by God later.
Guilt, deception, shame, and the use of the skills and materials from the world around them (clothing made of fig leaves in this case) replaced the security they had known by learning of the world and themselves under the shadow of the love of God. Their sense of identity forever shifted from listening to God and the world He gave them, to listening to a fearful voice within themselves that spoke of shame, guilt, and the need to control and use the world to hide their insecurity.
I believe that this is sin. Sin is the state of being that all men and women find themselves in where we are compelled by a voice inside that speaks of fear, guilt, inadequacy, and shame. We reach out to the world around us, and like Adam and Eve, we make clothing out of wealth, food, possessions, friends, religious posturing, social attainment, and so much more. Sin was the displacement of God from the defining role of our world and life, not the choice to disobey.
In the centuries since, we have become experts in classifying sin. We are adept at comparing our normal behaviors and best intentions to the failures of others. We freely grade others on a scale of our own creation, and assign shame liberally to elevate ourselves above our neighbors. We freely greet sinners with more shame, and somehow believe this will lead the world to salvation. We have claimed to run houses of healing, when secretly we carried the sick and wounded out to the shed and put them down for the sake of maintaining the perception of health in the community (or the sick learned to apply makeup and act like they weren’t sick for the sake of being a part of our spiritual community).
If we see sin as a state of being, then acts of sin are merely a reflection of where we have not yet silenced the internal voice of shame. Redemption is then not primarily about controlling behavior, but is about restoring humanity’s broken sense of identity.
I also believe holiness is not then about the absence of sin. Rather it is a characteristic unique to God and would be better defined as the fullness of all that is good. Scripture instructs us to be holy as God is holy. So either we are asked to chase some attainable goal for the sheer misery of being constantly reminded how sinful we are, or we are being invited to a place of a restored identity, a new state of being. It is a whimsical kiss to invite us to find new hope and believe there is something more than the constant drone of judgment and shame.
So back to the story of the controversial worship leader: I think you could debate that our treatment of language and alcohol is more cultural than biblical. But that is not the argument I think that needs to be made. I think the most tragic thing was not that young man’s actions but the wave of superiority and the dose of shame that hundreds lined up to add to the judgment of this man. Not worthy. Not worthy. You have not right to worship, to lead, to hear the voice of God, to speak on behalf of God. Not worthy. You have not mastered your behaviors yet. We still see your sin. Not worthy.
I can only imagine the same shame and judgment rumbling in their own hearts and minds. The greater tragedy is that many have become so deafened by the voice of spiritual judgment, that they associate it with the voice of God, and believe that in sharing it they are doing the work of God.
We all bear the stain. We all carry the disease. We all need to be restored, redeemed, and made holy. We need the fullness of good, not the absence of bad. We need love, not guilt disguised as love. We need security, not shame-motivated self-discipline. We need the kiss of hope, not the stain of judgment.
Yes, we need holiness. Oh how we need holiness, but the fullness of good will never be ours by eliminating the bad (as we cannot brighten a room by sucking out the darkness). We will be made holy as we see Him bit-by-bit and find ourselves surrendering to his voice of love more than our voice of shame.
Our response to sinful acts is just as much a sign of the sickness as the acts themselves. None of it brings life, hope, or restoration. We will judge as we have always judged if we are changed/motivated by our internal voice of shame. We will love differently if we have been changed by His love.
Because we mis-diagnose the source of our calamity, we attempt to treat a shame-fueled behavior with shamed-fueled spiritual judgment and no one is redeemed, no love is fostered, the sting of the our self-judging voice continues to dominate and set the tone for how we see ourselves, our neighbors, and God.