Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Calling Out Sin

Those who have been following my blog lately have probably noticed a theme on sin and sin reduction. In general, I'm not a big fan of the holiness movements that (in my opinion) over-emphasize the role of the lack of sin in people's lives. The idea of confession can also be over-used in a way that guilts and shames people into being meek and mellow followers of a certain set of rules and regulations (at least on the surface).

At the same time, I have strong holiness roots, spiritually and secularly. As one of my friends and I have talked about, we both generally have excellent self-control. Heck, I've avoided eating and going to the bathroom for hours in order to get projects done.

Yet that kind of self-control can be just as damaging as a prodigal lifestyle. Perfectionism is debilitating. I don't know of any psychological theory that encourages perfectionism. Yet it runs in my family, making us all anxious. My wife often comments about how unhappy I must be trying to make everything "right" and fixing things. Living a virtuous life can be taken too far (look at the Pharisees).

Ultimately, it's all behavior and external. The heart is what matters. And virtuous behavior can kill the heart. Ironic, isn't it? Unrighteous behavior can kill the heart, as can the opposite.

That is why I so often see the need for love. Without love, there is no heart. And there is no room for error.

Being a psychologist, I daily work with people who have a variety of behavior problems. Most of the behaviors could be given the sin label.

I sometimes have to point out a dysfunctional pattern. However, most of the time, people know how they're screwing up. They need help fixing it. And usually the solution is some form of giving and receiving love.

Even the narcissists know their foibles. In psychology, we talk about how a narcissistic injury caused the over-inflated ego. This is a deep injury to one's self-esteem and identity. There is, in truth, a lack of self, causing a facade of strength to cover the emptiness.

There isn't a person with a psychological disorder (or lack thereof) who really needs to be told how awful they are. They already know. They may not act like it, but that's usually because they have no hope of any better kind of redemption.

So what do we, as a Church, often provide? More condemnation and calling out of what they're doing wrong.

What we need to emphasize is what everyone is longing for: A means for transformation, to become whole. And the answer is Jesus Christ. Through love. Through unconditional, unwavering, magnificent love. Despite our sins, despite our doubts, despite our lack of love. Christ loves us. And Christ loves others through us. When we let him.

Yet there are times when it is good and right to call out a sin. I think it needs to be done in the context of a trusting, solid relationship. Without that, the safety of assured love and acceptance leaves a void of rejection and antipathy. Who wants to confess facing that abyss?

This is the process I generally follow as a therapist. Before I can confront someone, I need to build a rapport with them, a relationship built on honest trust and love. Otherwise, the confrontation is not helpful. When done right, it can lead to transformation.

What do you think? When and how is it appropriate to call out sin? Should it ever be done publicly? Generally (like against the "big" sins)?

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