That three-letter word

Mt. Gilboa8Some of my favorite songs include words about God's love and kindness and mercy. I take great comfort in knowing that God, the One who spoke and the worlds came to be, is a merciful God, a forgiving God, a loving God. But it occurred to me this week that as humans, I think we've forgotten why we need God to exhibit and inhabit those qualities. Why do we need a merciful, forgiving, loving God...unless we have reason to need mercy, forgiveness, and love? I also wonder what has happened to our sense of guilt? Do people even understand that three-letter word "sin"? In our attempt to smooth over all things unpleasant, we don't call our misdeeds, our mistakes in judgement, our outright lies, sin. We might call them mistakes, but I wonder - has sin become worse than a four-letter word?

Sin simply means "missing the mark." So...whose mark have we missed? Our own? If I miss the mark of the excellence I set for myself and that is my only measuring stick, then I made a mistake. I failed to achieve my goals. Not a big deal really, because the only one I disappointed was myself.

If I miss the mark set by my contracts and don't keep my word to fulfill them, then I've disappointed far more people than myself. In that case, an apology and in some cases even a making of amends are in order. A bigger deal. But not unfixable.

If I miss the mark set by society, by the laws of the land, then the stakes are a little higher. If I'm speeding, I could cause a crash and kill someone. At the very least I could get a speeding ticket. If I do something that causes great harm to another person or many people at large, then the stakes go even higher. I've caused more than just guilt in myself for missing my own goals. I've crossed the line that governs a peaceful existence, and retribution and punishment are in order. In some capital cases, my actions would not be fixable, even if they were forgivable.

Now if we take this one step further to the highest authority - suppose that there really is a God who created all things. Suppose that God has a mark, and the mark is absolute perfection. No one could meet it, and no one ever did until Jesus came. And what if that God gave us a set of guidelines, laws, like laws of the land, only these are laws were given to show us where we fall short of God's mark. They are summed up in "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself."

Those are so easy to rattle off, but that kind of love is much more than a feeling toward God and neighbor. To love like that without failure is impossible for us because it would mean a kind of self-sacrifice that wars against our very nature. Encompassed in that law is the command "do not covet...anything that is your neighbor's."

We miss God's mark (sin) when we desire anything that doesn't belong to us - someone else's wife, job, possessions, etc. When we lie (yes, even a "white" lie), cheat, steal, etc. Jesus took it to that coveting level when he said that to look at a woman with lust in your heart was to commit adultery with her.  Not a single one of us can perfectly keep from coveting others or what belongs to them. Not a single one of us can love God and our neighbors (or even those we love most) unconditionally.

That's why God says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And "there is none righteous, not even one."

To understand what sin is helps us to understand our own hearts, that we too, have sinned at the highest level. We've not just missed the mark of our own goals. We've missed the mark of the glory of God.

It's a three-letter word we would do well to recognize. For is we do not see that we all have sinned, then we do not need God to be merciful, forgiving, loving and kind.

And this world would not desperately need a Savior.