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Sin – The Burden Must Be Born

Oh sin, you dirty little thing.  It’s so messy.  It’s so painful.  It so shameful.  It’s such a burden.  It always has a negative effect.  It always divides relationships.  It often destroys them.  It doesn’t just disintegrate over time, but it sticks around in full force until it is destroyed.  It requires some sort of payment.  It requires justice.  It requires death to the one who committed it.  Or… it requires an innocent person who was hurt by it to bear the weight of it, the pain of it, the shame of it, and the burden of it in order to free the one that committed it.  If the one sinned against does not take on the burden of the sin, the relationship is destroyed.  Lord, may what I’m saying become clear as I write and may you give me the words to articulate my thoughts, and may this be used to provide us perspective on what you did and how we should respond accordingly.

Let’s start with a human relationship.  For brevity, simplicity, and clarity we will act as if this relationship is purely horizontal between two people and there is no element of a vertical God relationships.  Although, to be clear, I do believe that in real life situations, even among atheists, the YHWH relationship is always a factor.  Imagine a husband-wife relationship in which the wife has had an affair with another man. Imagine that we are the husband. You’ve been deeply wronged. There are quite a few options here for the husband.

They all involve what we (as the husband) do with the guilt of the sin. He can keep the weight of sin on his wife, a sensible and just decision given it is her action, her fault, and her choice – the burden should be with her. This often looks like coldness toward the wife, biting words, biting gossip, a vengeful divorce, sinning against the wife in an equally painful way, and various other attempts to create justice by punishing the wife. Another option is ignorance, pretending she never had an affair or that it wasn’t a big deal, and going on with the marriage pretending the burden of sin isn’t there at all. This option will destroy the relationship, drive the husband to clinical insanity, and the wife will constantly feel her guilt, concerned about when the topic will come up.

There is another way to deal with the guilt of sin. The third option is forgiveness. This is the hardest option for the husband, make no mistake about it. As free beings made in the image of a good God, we have  a natural desire for justice, and the husband has to give this up in order to forgive. Forgiveness, in one sense, is an act of injustice. In another sense, it is completely just because the husband who has been wronged and has every right to justice chooses to give up that right and clear the record of the sins of the wife against him. By giving up his right to justice, the husband takes on the burden of guilt. He has removed it from the wife because he, being the one sinned against, has a right to. But, still, an injustice has been done to him and if he does not seek out justice, then he bears the burden of the injustice. We have to take upon ourselves the pain, the humiliation, the shame, the wound, the scar, and taking on the weight of her guilt, erase her guilt by putting to death our right to justice – so experiencing the full weight of her sin.

Forgiveness is hard and incredibly painful, but it is the only way for the husband to have a real relationship with his wife again. Revenge, even equal revenge that equalizes injustices, might in one sense satisfy the husband, but it will destroy their relationship, not enable it. Pretending the sin isn’t there will allow for a pretend relationship, but that’s it. In order for the couple to be intimate again, the husband (us) has to absorb the injustice by exercising his right to remove her guilt and take it upon himself. It’s the hardest way and the only way to restore a relationship.

This action does require a particular response from the wife. If she chooses to be proud and refuses to give her guilt because she doesn’t deserve to have it removed, the act of forgiveness cannot be completed. We can only forgive and offer restoration, but he cannot force the wife to be humble and accept the gracious gift he has offered. If she doesn’t want forgiveness, the act can’t be done. The wife can also be proud by arrogantly expecting forgiveness almost demanding it because of her sense of entitlement to it. She then is trying to place her guilt on the husband, but it’s impossible – her guilt lies with her unless he chooses to take it from her, and in the proud act of trying to force the husband into taking on the injustice she is committing another injustice. Her goal is to acquire whatever she can from the relationship, and because of this, even if the husband (unhealthily) offers his forgiveness to a taking wife, the purpose of forgiveness is never accomplished because there can be no intimacy in a relationship of taking. What the wife must do if the act of forgiveness is to be completed is to, without a sense of entitlement but with a humble heart, undeservingly request and accept the forgiveness of the husband. In turn, the husband rightfully requests that the wife end her adulterous behavior.

In our imaginations we can feel what it’s like to be the husband, but in reality, we are the adulterous wife. God, may it be clear to us what You have done.

All sin, even things like murder and adultery, is primarily a sin against YHWH. It is the innocent party that is the most sinned against, and as humans, we’re never ultimately innocent.  Perhaps in one area we have innocence, but ultimately we are all guilty and deserve punishment. Sin is always against God because God is the only innocent in the world, both as a perfectly good Creator and as a human. Jesus’ death on the cross is the ultimate example of God’s choice to take on the injustice that we have done to him and destroying the guilt, freeing us to be intimate with him. It is, in addition to being a powerful act in itself with deep spiritual consequences, a representation of what God does by choosing to be in a relationship with us. He takes on the pain, the wounds, the scars, the shame, the humiliation, and the injustice and erases our record of wrongs. We can respond to this either with pride or with humility. What he asks of us is to simply stop having the affair because it’s impossible to be intimate with the one we keep knowingly and deliberately hurting.  The freedom we have that comes from God’s forgiveness is not a license to sin against God, He will not be mocked in this way. To go on sinning, continuing in our love affair, while expecting intimacy with God, what we are trying to do is putting our guilt on Jesus and making him die for it. The problem is that it is not our right to put our bloodguilt on Jesus or expect Jesus to take it, it is God’s right alone to take up our iniquities and erase them. It’s His choice alone. And he chooses to take on the burden of sin for us adulterers who will undeservingly bow ourselves before him to request and accept his forgiveness.

I hope that something of what was in my mind was communicated well. My thoughts have been clarifying and transforming for me, and I hope some of the same for the reader of this attempt at articulation. A few exhortations… Appreciate all acts of forgiveness offered you.  They are powerful and selfless. Let your heart be sombered, humbled, and enlifened as you reflect on the injustice God took on and got rid of for you. Take full advantage of every opportunity to be intimate with God as it is the most precious and costly gift ever offered. Forgive as Christ forgave you.

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  1. January 21, 2012 at 12:27 am

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