What is Sin?

There was a young girl who went shopping with her mother. She walked through the dollar store and found a plastic pearl necklace. She grabbed it from the shelf and relentlessly begged her mother to purchase it for her. Her mother however said to her young daughter, “I’ll tell you what, if you clean your room and do some chores I will give you some money so that you can earn it all for yourself.” The daughter agreed and went home, cleaned her room (even under her bed) and helped her mother around the house. After sometime her mother gave her the money to buy the plastic-pearl necklace.

The young girl wore this necklace everywhere, she was so proud of it. She wore it to bed, she wore it to school, and she showed everyone this treasure she had found. One night, however, her Father came into tuck her into bed. He said to her, “I want to ask you a favour.” She looked at him and said, “Anything daddy!” Her Father held out his hand and said, “I want you to give me your necklace.”

She immediately grabbed her necklace and said, “No daddy, this is mine! I worked for it!” He said, “okay.” Then he tucked her into bed, kissed her on the forehead and said good nite.” Her Father continued to tuck her into bed, and continued to ask the same question, at least once a week. But the daughter continued to be obstinate, refusing to give her Father this one thing.

One day the Father walked into her room, finding her sobbing miserably. The Father quickly said, “What’s the matter little one?” The daughter looked up with tear-stained eyes and said, “Take it! It is making me miserable.” She shoved the plastic-pearl necklace into His hands. “It is keeping me from you Dad!”

The Father tucked her in, silently, kissed her on the forehead and said, “Good nite.” In the morning the young girl woke up with a real pearl neckless in her hand.

Our Heavenly Father doesn’t make anything cheap: look at the universe. Look at the highest point of creation: You. The Son didn’t die for the stars, or for the mountains, or for the wonders of the world: he died for you.

Sin is ultimately the result of treating ourselves as if we are not great. We aim for counterfeit love and half-truths. We aim low, because we do not recognize our own dignity, our own worth. Treat yourself to the realization that you are worth more than the universe, and then you will realize that “the world is not enough” and only its creator can satisfy that longing in your heart: the Love of God.

This young girl holds onto some plastic-imitation of the “real” thing, of the great pearl necklace. She holds onto a counterfeit of what her Heavenly Father truly wants to give her. But it is only until she painfully sacrifices this item she treasures that she will be able to receive the “real-thing.” Our Heavenly Father does not want to impose his gifts upon us, but wants us to accept them freely, trusting that when he asks us to change our lives, he is doing it because he wants to replace that gap with something altogether more amazing.

Often times when we look at sin, we often think of a code of conduct given to us through the scriptures (which is true). Sin itself is contrary to God’s law, because God is seeking what is good for us. God does not need us to be obedient to His will for him to be perfectly happy. God in fact does not “need” us for anything. Yet he nonetheless desires that we be happy, for our own sake.

We rarely teach why sin itself is very contrary to our own genuine happiness and joy in life. Sin itself is to fall short of what it means to be “who I am.” Sin is to immerse ourselves into that which is “fake” that which is “false” that which is a mere counterfeit of the real thing. We are not being who we truly are, we are being someone else.

Sin is not a matter of irritating God with behaviour he arbitrarily decided he would rather us not perform. God’s moral law is grounded deeply into allowing us to achieve our full potential to love and be loved. God wants us to become “fully alive” and does not want to hold us back. True freedom therefore is found in LOVE OF His law, and slavery (addiction) is found in sin, where we become blind to the true good nature of ourselves.

God created us to be great-lovers, to be saints. When a person has a poor image of themselves, low standards, and a poor understanding of why morality is even important, it is the result of a deep subconscious lie that states, “I am worthless” or “I am totally depraved of goodness.”

The Philosopher Kant attempted to establish a moral philosophy that does not meditate on the nature of the moral actor (person). This is called a “deontological” ethic, and it is highly problematic – and it is exactly what is wrong with various non-Catholic, Christian forms of morality that have ascribed to it, as it ultimately develops into a cold, duty-bound morality that has nothing to do with “being fully alive” and “loving ourselves as images of God.”

St. Thomas Aquinas who ascribed to what is called an “ontological ethic” or “common-sense ethics,” teaches that each human person has a purpose: and that purpose is to become Happy. It is an undeniable fact that every person desires to be happy, and this is what motivates us in all our actions. If you walk outside to buy some bread, you do it because you are hungry, and being hungry can be painful, and thus can make you unhappy (so can starvation). But all choices lead to an “ultimate happiness.” Our hunger or thirst always comes back, and so we are hungering and thirsting for something that will last eternally. This Aquinas and Aristotle call our “Summa Bonum” our “ultimate end” that “ultimate good” we live for.

All little choices are in some way linked to our desire to be happy, and this is the innate design of each human person: God has constructed us in such a fashion that we all seek to be happy.

There are two types of Happiness however, according to St. Thomas Aquinas: “Apparent” and “Real.”

Apparent Happiness

Apparent happiness could be defined as “falsely perceived happiness.” We all have the experience of looking for love and happiness in all the wrong places. We have all made decisions that made us feel happy, but left us feeling miserable later. All of these apparent happiness is the result of placing our hope for our fulfillment, our happiness in the wrong “stuff.” We are seeking something to satisfy that undying desire for love, a love that never ends. And so often we put our hope into something that in fact does die, that does not last, and that is rather cheap in contrast to what our heart truly desires. From this we can realize that each human person will want to be cured of ignorance so that we can experience “real” happiness or “happiness in reality.”

Real Happiness

Real Happiness ultimately is found in what is “real” otherwise known as the TRUTH. Another way of putting it is, we seek our fulfillment, our happiness in reality rather than a fantasy world. Real happiness ultimately means we are seeking happiness in what can sustain us, and truly give us the fulfillment we seek. We refuse self-deception, and we accept what reality is, and live in it. We all know of people who can be stuck in “la-la land” where they dream up fantasies that are beyond a realistic vision of who they are…they are often the result of a form of escapism.

Like the young girl, she placed her hope in some cheap imitation of what she really wanted: a real pearl necklace. But more to the point, she wanted above all things a relationship with her Father, and came to the realization that her “apparent happiness” was actually making her quite unhappy. It was only until she was healed of that blindness, that she was able to – albeit painfully – give up her possessions out of love for her Father.

Apparent Happiness can be the result of two things:

Innocent Ignorance

We can be raised to think certain things will bring us happiness. We may think that having a great body, having a lot of money, a number of types of cars or relationships will make us happy. We may even think that our vocation itself will give us a total sense of happiness, be it marriage, priesthood or a career. We may simply not be aware that all of these things or relationships are either a means to genuine happiness, or a stumbling block to real happiness. But none of them are “ends in themselves.” In any case, a person who is innocently ignorant is someone who, to no fault of their own simply does not know the truth about something. They either had no education on the matter or were deceived into thinking something false to no fault of their own (i.e parents indoctrinating their children with atheism or something else just as irrational).

Chosen Ignorance

When confronted with the truth about our unhappiness we may realize quickly that surrendering, painfully that which we have become addicted to in our life will be painful. As a result we can attempt to make ourselves ignorant of that realization by “forgetting about it.”

We can effectively lie to ourselves, not so much because we do not want the ideal in its place, but because we do not wish to do the hard-work that is involved in detaching ourselves from what idol or created thing or person we have become addicted to for “my own happiness.”

Chosen ignorance is ultimately to choose not to “contemplate” one’s life but to escape into the “moment” or the “future” in such a way that never really examines what our purpose is (future) and how to logically go after it (the present). We would rather be dazed in a fantasy world that we create for ourselves that I generally term as “la-la land.”

Idols are another example of what “sin” is. I recently watched the new movie which was a remake of Snow White. In this movie the evil queen places a mirror onto an Altar of a Castle she takes over. She replaces God with a mirror – her vain quest for personal beauty and power (which go hand-in-hand in this particular case). She has taken a created thing which is good, and made it the “be-all and end all,” of everything she desires. But the evil witch will never be happy, because it is this never-ending daunting exercise of resentment, of war, of murder and of trying to protect herself from all the enemies she continues to make. He is constantly trying to defend and safeguard what she thinks will bring her happiness – and it makes her miserable. With God, however, he does not need our protecting, he is Powerful and present to us, even in death. We simply need to allow him to enter into our Castle, be placed on our Altar, to be the centre of our life.

Idols are cheap, because they are not God. We were created to be happy by receiving God’s love, and that is expressed in the sign of the “real pearl necklace” given by the young girls Father. At the end of the day, the choice to hang onto the cheap pearl necklace is the choice to hate yourself, to not love yourself and to act as if you are called to nothing more than a cheap imitation of something great. Saints seek a treasure that is eternal, sinners seek something that will die and fade away. Clearly the counterfeit is stupid; and that is sin. You are called to something more – so lets love ourselves by living for greatness. As Blessed Mother Teresa put it, we ought to not do great things as much as do small things with Great love. Because at the end of the day, anything other than Love is a cheap pearl necklace.

1 Comment

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One response to “What is Sin?

  1. Awesome post. My own conversion to the Church was largely helped by being convinced that the existence of sin was predicated on human dignity and not on depravity (as I was raised to believe). I had read a lot of Thomas Aquinas, but never agreed that grace built on nature. I thought it corrupted nature. Silly me. Anyway, this was one of the biggest areas of interior conversion for me. Deo gratia!

    And thank God also for St. Thomas Aquinas.

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