Lord, forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love.
1 John 2:2
Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Ms. Young was my first grade teacher. She had a Bible on her desk, opened to a picture of Jesus on the cross. He was bloody. It looked quite gruesome. But it left an impression on me that I can recall nearly 60 years later. Some would say that we Christians and church people talk too much about sin. People want to hear happy words of affirmation. We all want the trophy – if for no other reason than that we participated in the game. We would rather not focus so much on the negative. Let’s feel good. Let’s be happy. Let’s not worry. And even when we realize we’ve done something wrong, who’s to say it was actually wrong anyway?
That’s OK when you’re the sinner as long as you leave God out of the picture. But what about when you’re the one against whom someone else sins? What if you’re the victim of someone else’s sin? How do you feel then about offering happy words of affirmation, encouragement for the good the other has done, positive thoughts, and happy feelings? When your heart has been broken by unkind words or you’ve been made the brunt of an office politics scheme, and you’re left in the cubicle while the schemer gets the corner office and everyone on his team gets the bonus.
There are those who believe that the positive approach to these and even more major world problems is best. If we just lift the terrorist groups out of poverty, show them we care about them, and offer kindness they will be won to our way of thinking. The criminal is simply a victim of a poor economic situation, he needs help, not condemnation. Worse yet is the idea that certain sexual behaviors – really almost any – are acceptable and not sinful is rampant in the world today.
If sin is really no big deal, why did Jesus have to die? If sin is an outdated notion, why do we ever struggle with a guilty conscience? If all we need is positive thoughts how come those who disagree are criticized for their lack of positive words of affirmation?
Ignoring sin is never good. God did not do it. He urges us not to do it either. Rather than ignoring sin, God forgave sin. He expresses his steadfast love to the world by forgiving sin even before we admit we need it. When Jesus died, he said, “Father forgive them.” Those who had him crucified were convinced they were doing good. In reality God was doing good. He was doing what he would not let Abraham do, and offering his own Son for the sins of the whole world.
I think that’s why Ms. Young had that Bible on her desk in first grade. That’s why we confess our sins. God has acted in the face of our sin, forgiving iniquity and expressing a steadfast love in which we are embraced for all eternity.