A blog reader wrote in with a question about sin:
I really love your blog and wish you lived next door. I am not coming to Christian Science easily but I am coming to it. I would appreciate a word of wisdom from you regarding sin and punishment. I have read S&H several times and just can't get through that first chapter without great difficulty and argument because it has some thickly veiled fire and brimstone that hearkens back to my daily [parochial] school days when the reverend would lash out angrily at a chapel full of 6 and 7 year olds. The 1st chapter doesn't go that far but does insist that sin is it's own punishment and that it will demand payment even after this life and/or to the utmost farthing. That assertion is so much tamer than what I first learned but it still makes sin real and exacts punishment for it. I know there must be something I am just not understanding but I need to get over this because my mind always obsesses about this when I get into s spot that is difficult to pray through. It's a mental snag I wish to be rid of. I hope this all makes sense.
I talked with the questioner a bit on the phone about this, but thought it would also be good to share some ideas here.
So, sin. Sometimes I’d just like to take that word and wipe away any previous definition it has had and start over. Just wipe it free from old theology and judgment, and instead focus the definition on what is really useful to understand for spiritual growth. Since I’ve only ever been a student of Christian Science (as opposed to other faith traditions and spiritual teachings), I never had an externally defined meaning for sin. My working definition of the word stems from how it’s used by Mary Baker Eddy in Science and Health.
What’s revolutionary about MBE’s usage is that she describes sin as something to be destroyed. She doesn’t claim it to be a permanent part of us, or inherent in us. She maintains that the image and likeness of the perfect, sinless Soul that is God must be sinless as well. Sin in Christian Science is merely one aspect of the belief that we are not the image and likeness of God, Spirit, but that we are material and are buffeted by material causes and effects. As we learn the fallacy of this belief, we outgrow and destroy sin—as well as sickness and death.
The idea of sin being its own punishment doesn’t mean there’s some superhuman being up there, keeping track of all the things we do wrong and sending punishment that is either appropriate or capricious, depending on the being’s mood. This is a totally irrational and unrealistic view of the Divine. God does not send us punishments for doing wrong—the wrong itself carries the punishment within it, because we are that much further from understanding our true being as the divine image and likeness.
Sin includes its own punishment in the same way that a large rock includes its own weight. As long as you’re carrying the rock, you’ll experience the stress and strain of hauling it around. When you drop it, the heaviness disappears. There is no residual heaviness to burden you once the rock is released. You are free from the weight when you lose the rock—you are free from punishment when you lose the sin. But you must lose the sin.
Let’s take a smallish “sin”—lying. A child lies to cover up some misdeed, and it becomes a habit. Over time, he gets away with more and more things by lying, and he thinks this is making his life easier. But he is mistaken. One day, someone he loves discovers his lies, and is hurt or ceases to trust him. The Divine didn’t send this punishment—it’s inherent in the sin itself, the logical conclusion to what a habit of lying will bring. In order to set things right, the child needs to 1) stop lying and 2) make up for any hurt he’s caused. On a deeper level, he needs to put behind childish things and learn the value of trust and trustworthiness. When he does these things and learns the spiritual lesson, the punishment ends. His identity is wiped clean of the sin of “lying” because he’s grown beyond it.
And that’s it. That’s the whole of the transaction. We sin, we learn, we stop, we are cleansed. Too many people get caught at the second step, though. They think that by confessing or by feeling guilty they are making up for the sin, or they dig in and use self-justification to legitimize the sin, so they never get to the lesson they are supposed to be learning. This is the sin that may hang on beyond this life. In the next life, we will still have to deal with the sins we’ve denied or put off. But if we just deal with things when they come up, it will make our entire journey a lot easier—why wait, when you know you’ll have to deal with it sometime anyway?
We’ve got to do the spade work that teaches us the lesson we need. This, at last, is where divine Love joins us in this battle. Divine Love tells us we are sinless, so this wrongdoing was never part of our true nature. Divine Love embraces us and comforts us with the knowledge that we have always been loved, and that the lesson will not be too hard for us. Divine Love assures us that once we see ourselves the way Love sees us, sin will drop away and be gone forever, with no residual punishment to fear. As MBE says, “the belief in sin is punished so long as the belief lasts”—and not a moment longer.
Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
Email this posting to a friend with the envelope icon below.