The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The world of sin

If it helps, think of sin as the cause and sins as the effect

When the Sudanese-born basketball giant, Manute Bol, would throw a bad pass, he would say in his broken English, "My bad," instead of "My fault."

Bol's use of that expression popularized this now idiomatic way of acknowledging mistakes. My bad is a favorite term for admitting an error, even if there is some flippancy in it. The implication is not entirely apologetic. "I won't do it again. Get over it. Let's move along."

What exactly is sin if it's not simply my bad, or a poor judgment, a regrettable misstep, or one of the many other admissions we often hear from fallen public figures? What does sin look like? How does it sound? How does it smell?

Does sin taste like pears? When the fifth-century bishop, Augustine, described sin, he didn't first reference some monumental rebellion against God so much as the mischievous pleasure he experienced when stealing pears as a youth. "If any part of one of those pears passed my lips, it was the sin that gave it flavor," he said.

Sometimes we think of sin as bright and attention-getting, juicy wrongs that capture the spotlight. Bright red would be the color. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow," the Lord says in the opening chapter of Isaiah (verse 18).

William Temple, one-time Archbishop of Canterbury, thought gray a more apt color than scarlet to describe his sins, undramatic and colorless as they often seemed in their routine.

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February issue


Embracing diversity