To err is human, to forgive is divine

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. -1 John 1:8

Dear members and friends of the Swedenborgian Church,

“Sin” is probably one of the most disturbing words to modern Americans. The English word “sin” certainly carries dark and shameful overtones as its dictionary definition is “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” However, what is interesting is that the Greek and Hebrew words which are translated as “sin” are not so dark and loaded with shamefulness. For instance, we read this in 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, …” As a modern American, your immediate tendency would be to equate the word “sin” in this instance as “an immoral act that is against divine law.” Yet, the Greek word translated as sin is hamartia, which means “to be without a share in,” “to miss the mark,” “to err, be mistaken,” or “to wander from the law of God.” And, the Hebrew word translated as sin is chata, which means “to miss the goal or path of right and duty,” “to bear loss,” “to miss the mark,” “to lose oneself,” “to wander from the way,” or “to purify from uncleanness.”

There are two things that I would like highlight here. First is that a concept or word is often used and accepted in reflection to how people repeatedly apply it instead of its original meaning. The word/concept “sin” became deadly and shameful due to the concept of Original Sin, which was suggested by St. Paul in Romans, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin (5:12),” and then conceptualized by St. Augustin in his famous work, Confessions. Yet, the Bible itself uses the words hamartia in the New Testament and chata in the Old Testament to describe a human act or condition that is not deadly or forever shameful, but easily forgivable and correctable.  Consequently, the second thing to note is that the Bible emphasizes sin not to condemn humans or to make them feel miserable, but to remind and warn humans about the necessity for self-acknowledgment that they are all born imperfect and prone to make mistakes and errors. Therefore, the true message from the Bible, in my understanding, is that we all should be empathetic to one another; understanding and accepting each other as who we are, imperfect and prone to make mistakes because that is exactly who we are as well.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee