Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Necessity of Sin

**I started this about a week and a half ago, and finished it this morning. I like it, because it explicates my insanity pretty well.**

The Necessity of Sin
Sean Michael Barker

It is presently the season of Lent, and Christians who observe this tradition take time each year to reflect upon sin, sacrifice, and the roles that these play in their lives. We do this by examining our personal sins and by giving up a specific one in order to strengthen our walk in faith and our relationship with Christ. Though Lent is traditionally observed by Catholics and Anglicans—and I am neither—I decided to participate this year in order to improve myself and attempt to understand why I sin and what I need to do to stop sinning. 

We are currently two weeks into the forty-day Lenten season, and I have already failed in my personal commitments to stop smoking and overindulging in sweets. Though I started off strongly, I never quite achieved the focus necessary to carry my goals all the way through. I haven’t given up; I plan to get right back on the proverbial horse and try again, but I must admit that, as a Christian and a spiritual person, I’m not quite “there” yet. Though disappointing, this is an important revelation.

It tells me that, despite the tremendous personal/spiritual progress that I’ve made over the past year and a half, I am still very much a sinner. There still exists within me an impulse toward destruction that I have not conquered, nor have I allowed my Savior to vanquish for me. In my pride, I have attempted to control something that is in fact beyond me, without taking the necessary steps or making the requisite sacrifices to rid myself of it. I’m just not there yet. 

And so, here I am, a sinner, meditating for a season on the nature of sin. Thusly positioned, I am aware of what sin does for me and what it does against me. I fully recognize that the cons outweigh the pros, but, in what I may someday view as a foolish self-defense, I will choose now to focus on why sin is a necessary and perhaps even a good force within one’s life.

So what exactly is sin? We have a common definition, and most people would probably produce a list of examples if asked such a question. I will do the same to illustrate my point, but I believe that sin is a purely relative notion with perhaps some overarching ideas that apply more widely than to the self. I subscribe to the idea that we each have a purpose on this planet and a core Self that is perfectly designed to fulfill this purpose. I believe that free will is a necessary illusion and that, ultimately, everything—no matter how seemingly wrong or heinous—is in fact acceptable. I believe that the will of God is perfect and that there is no such thing as a mistake or a misstep within the Great Plan. 

One might say that I don’t really believe in sin at all, and that’s fair. Then again, I’ve already self-identified as a sinner, so I’d need to believe the way I do in order to continue as such. You can see the paradoxical nature of being me here: ultimately, I do personally believe in sin, but I also believe that God created everything, including sin, and is in complete control of both sin and salvation. To me, it is all a beautiful and perfect experience that must be taken as a whole in order to be appreciated. Much as I recognize the illusory nature of this whole concept, this narrative if you will, I value it too much to let go of it and not live out my own story of darkness-come-light. 

Reality exists in layers. I find this to be true, both personally and in an aggregate sense. My higher self understands that it’s all just a story and that it must be lived out from start to finish. My common self—the one I am most frequently—believes in free will and thus believes in the possibility of causing harm to oneself and others in such a way as to incur blame and therefore guilt. Though this seems very complicated, it makes sense to me, and I understand myself to be a reconciled multi-dimensional figure. Let me assure you: we’re fine just the way we are J

To simplify it for the reader, let’s say that I self-consciously choose to believe in sin, because I see it as a valuable way of contending with this very strange and complex world. I cannot look around myself without seeing Good and Evil. Therefore, I cannot look at or within myself without identifying both of these forces within me. I am possessive of a utopian ideal that I call Good, and I want for Good to conquer Evil and make the world a paradise. Therefore, I must rid myself of all that runs counter to this goal; I must purge the Evil within. 

For me, Good is the perfect harmony of God’s grace reigning everything such that peace and beauty prevail as the hallmarks of this planet. Evil is man’s impulse toward control and desire for God-like status—created by Fear—that cause him to ruin what would otherwise be Heaven and subject himself to ceaseless misery. Good looks like a visual cornucopia of uninterrupted life, a very natural and beautiful vision of Love itself expressed in an endless dance of water, air, earth, fire, and flesh. Evil, on the other hand, looks like a grey perversion of asphalt and steel, a harsh and ruthless cacophony of consumption and slaughter. From this point of view, Evil is currently winning, just as it was written. 

But Good prevails in the end according to the story, and it is this story that I have chosen as my own. Love conquers all. We will someday understand that God is and always has been in control, and that Evil was allowed its season so that we could have the chance to understand more fully God’s perfection and submit to him the will that was rightfully and indeed truthfully His the entire time. But, like myself, we are not there yet.

And so, here we are, sinners, needing to be sinners so that we can get beyond both sin and salvation. While we are here, we must conquer not only our personal demons, but the quintessentially destructive force of judgment that holds us back more than all of our petty vices combined. It is for this reason that I will explicate my purely relative conception of sin.

As I said, we are all created beings with a predestined purpose inscribed in the very core of ourselves. We must fulfill our purpose, and doing so requires that we obey the forces within us that are beyond us. Desire and belief are two forces that inhabit this irrational space. We all have desires, and we all have beliefs, and it is our mission to enact these. We are all individuals, and our desires and beliefs are thus quite diverse. No two people share the exact same purpose, and so no two people possess the exact same desires or beliefs. Sin occurs when we refuse to obey these forces. 

The world is full of liars who will tell you that they possess an objective definition of sin, and that salvation can only occur if you adopt and adhere to their strictures. Anyone who has tried to live for someone else, by someone else’s moral code can tell you that it doesn’t work—that is, if they choose to be honest with themselves and with you. They won’t choose to do this until they’ve moved beyond that way of living. Salvation lies in finding one’s own core, in coming into one’s own as a spiritual being and understanding one’s purpose. Until you know who you are, you cannot be what you need to be in the fullest sense.

Unfortunately, knowing yourself is only half the battle. Once you have that part figured out, you must then take on the all-important task of being yourself. From my perspective, that of someone who is quite odd, this is the hard part. It seems to be easier for those who are more normal, but perhaps they lack self-awareness and are actually conforming. This isn’t for me to decide, but I think about this a lot, especially when I’m in a self-pitying/self-destructive/sinful mode. Suffice it to say that being oneself in the fullest sense is a formidable task, and those who achieve it—no matter who they are—have my deepest respect and admiration.

Within my relative framework, sin is knowing who you are and doing things that are inconsistent with that person at the core. It is misrepresenting yourself. It is holding yourself back and committing acts that impede your personal progress and mission. It is trying to be something you’re not. 

I will use myself as an illustration. Because of the conception of Good that I laid out earlier, I believe that we all must examine ourselves and our habits to identify the things that we do that contribute to the destructive forces that are eating the planet and making us all miserable. This entire mess that is the present is nothing more than the sum of all of our decisions. And so, each decision must be interrogated within the context of the whole. 

I believe that greed and fear are the driving forces of destruction. And so, every time I make a greedy or fearful decision, I am sinning. I can be both very greedy and very fearful. I very much enjoy my luxurious lifestyle, which is full of delicious food, material comforts, and over-stimulation. I eat more than I need to, I waste time that could be better spent, and I am in no particular hurry to fulfill my spiritual mission (knowing full and well what it is). I am a greedy person. I want what I want, when I want it, and I do not sacrifice these things when I clearly need to. 

Perhaps if I ate less, there would be less hunger in the world. If I took the hour that I use to watch an X-Files rerun and instead wrote something important, I could perhaps create a ripple effect that would make the world that much better. If I weren’t so afraid of losing my material comforts, I could quit my job waiting tables (feeding into other people’s greed and gluttony) and instead do something really valuable with my life. There is much that I choose to do and choose not to do that is inconsistent with the person I am at the core, with my most cherished beliefs and my most powerful desires. I am, therefore, a sinner. 

I want very desperately to be good. I want to be fully consistent with who I am from the depths of my being. I want to overcome sin and be myself. Thus, when I commit sinful acts, I feel ashamed and depressed. My misery outshines my love, and the people around me thus suffer with me. I project my pain in every direction, and everyone who comes into contact with me will bear witness to my sinful nature and share, to some degree, in its destructiveness. I become a bad influence and a bad friend, son, coworker, brother, and so forth. As my sinful cycle continues, I eventually reach the point where I feel as though Life itself is against me, and I adopt a “fuck everything and everyone” attitude. This only fuels my negative decision-making, and before long, I find myself in the state of being a selfish, irresponsible, self-loathing, spiteful prick. 

My life seems to bend toward darkness when I’m experiencing a season of sin, which further compounds my misery. As I cease to be pleasant company, and cease to care about how my actions affect others, I find myself drifting in a sea of self-isolation. I feel as though I cannot connect with those around me. The very people about whom I care the most seem to reject me, and in my self-pitying, I cannot blame them. My material resources deplete because I waste them on sinful implements. I become a less conscientious worker, and so my pay—largely tip-based—decreases. All of this, of course, gives me further reason to hate myself and to engage in self-destructive behavior. 

Though these cycles are very difficult to get out of, inevitably, I find my way back to the light. Something will click inside of me, and I will remember who I am. I will recognize that I am choosing to be miserable, and will make changes to get back on the right track. Often, I will break down and experience some set of emotions that my sinfulness had been numbing, and will in that moment feel a change occurring within me that will ultimately decrease my inclination to sin altogether. This is the moment of salvation. The evil within me purges itself, and I once again feel the presence of God in my heart and in my life. It is as if I am breathing for the first time after a long period of suffocation. The River of Life washes me anew, cleansing my soul and purifying my mind. There is an influx of ecstasy, accompanied by the security of the Almighty’s loving embrace. I am renewed in both innocence and vitality.

And, sure enough, my life will reflect the change as well. A cherished friend may give me a call out of the blue, reminding me that I am in fact loved. I feel a refreshed will to live, and I seek out and gravitate toward precious moments, which I experience in their full beauty. I have no concept of loneliness, and I am pleased with my actions, as they are now life-affirming instead of life-destroying. My resources increase as more people are willing to give me more, and I do not waste money on frivolous and detrimental pursuits. In short, I am happy, and I know that I am doing the right thing and being who I really am. 

As you can probably tell, because I describe it so thoroughly, this cycle of sin and salvation has repeated itself many a time in my life. I realize that the goal is to forfeit the sin entirely, and I am ultimately working toward and incrementally achieving this end. However, I believe that the reason why I cannot yet let go of the sin is that I have such a profound appreciation for the experience of salvation. The intense beauty, comfort, and warmth of the light simply cannot be known unless one also knows the intense misery and coldness of the darkness. I am still a very intense person, and my youthful energy sustains my intensity. I still have the ability to experience these emotions to the fullest, and I take full advantage of this. I go from the highest highs to the lowest lows and back again, taking the occasional break and allowing for moderation. Moderation, to me, is overrated. At this point, I would much rather experience my existence at one extreme or the other. 

I know that this cannot last forever. Youthful vitality inevitably yields to the wisdom of maturity and the harsh reality that the body’s energy does not last forever. Ultimately, this pattern of intensity is merely creating the lifestyle that I will one day enjoy in a much more settled fashion. I will eventually relinquish both the egregious mistakes and the extraordinary periods of correction. I will accept myself as a generally good but clearly imperfect individual, and enjoy my favorite vices with temperance. No longer will these acts snowball into sequences of intense self-destruction, and, sadly, no more shall I know the beauty of bringing myself out of such a sequence. There will be a simple and enduring peace that will carry me through my adulthood and enable me to contend with the trials of life in a perpetual state of clarity. 

But, for now, I will steadfastly contend that sin is, in fact, necessary. As long as I live, I will remember this phase of my development, and the intense liveliness that it brings. I will fondly remember the drama of sin and salvation that characterizes my young adulthood, and cherish the stubborn foolishness of it all as a trapping of youth. I will look upon my present self in the eyes of nostalgic love, never longing to repeat the cycle, but infinitely thankful for the way it will have shaped me. From the position of peace, I will fully appreciate the existence of the war. Perhaps this is what it will feel like when we all relinquish sin, and become once again united with our Creator. Maybe that is the ultimate lesson: in order to appreciate peace, we must first experience the war. 

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