The Benefits of Sin

ideasPassingStrange as this title may be, it does not condone sin, but points to moments of conversion. The following is an excerpt from an email sent by Sr. Joan Chittister to subscribers to Benetvision.

“It is not that sin is not sin. It is simply that sin is not the end of the world?and, in fact, may actually be the beginning of a number of things that can be gained hardly any other way in life and without which life is a pitiful place. A bout with greed may be precisely what teaches us the freedom of poverty. A struggle with lust may well be what, in the end, teaches us about the real nature of love. A strong dose of anger may be what it takes to teach us the beauty of gentleness.

There are, in other words, things to be learned from sin. One is compassion. Another is understanding. A third is humility. A fourth is perception. Without the ability to own our own sins, these qualities are all hard to come by indeed.

Sin gears us to suffer with those who suffer from the folly of their own weaknesses because we have smarted from the folly of our own. Once we can admit our own sins, once we face those things in ourselves that if ever brought to light would be our social downfall, we can companion those for whom the darkness of night has not been so kind. Sin enables us to understand the murderer, to deal justly with the criminal, to control the passion for blood that masks the sins of the righteous with a patina of virtue.

In the end, however, it may be humility and perception that are the best consequences?the intended consequences?of the surfeit of sin. Humility not only identifies us with the human race and confirms the earthiness of the human condition, but it erodes the very basis for hierarchy as well. Humility knows that there are no lords-of-the-manor at all; no one of us at all entitled to subject the rest of us; nobody at all good enough or pure enough to evaluate the rest of us. We are all in struggle. We are all attempting to kill within ourselves the very toxins that poison the human race in general. We are all at the mercy of the God of mercy. We can all learn something from one another.

Among the Hasidic tales one stands out for its compassion. ?Once upon a time,? the tale tells, ?the Jews of a very pious congregation criticized their rabbi for giving money to the town ne?er-do-well, whose use of the coins, the people knew, would not be for good. ?What?? the rabbi said, ?Shall I be more finicky in the giving of this coin than was God who gave it to me???

What we really need to kill in life may not be sin at all. What we may really need to avoid like the plague may be the temptation to a bare and brutal sinlessness that threatens us with heartlessness, the greatest sin of all.”
— from There Is A Season by Joan Chittister (Orbis)

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