1 John 1:8
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Like the verse from John we considered a few days ago, “Jesus wept,” this verse from I John was one I committed to memory early on in my life. As I recall, I recalled it often in the course of my adolescent and young adult years. Looking back, it is accurate to say that I suffered from an overactive conscience. The sense that I was falling short of what was required of me by God was always near—my salvation depended on it.
Lord, have mercy.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to grow up without possessing any meaningful concept of “sin.” I wonder: does the absence of any operative notion of ‘sin’ leave one with a more or a less truthful understanding of oneself? I think it is safe to say that the absence of ‘sin’ from one’s self understanding would not eliminate the experience of guilt. It may leave one ill equipped to make sense of that experience—an experience that is intrinsic to the human condition and crucial to the formation of a true self. That being said, without the experience of a love and a grace that is greater than any sin, a truthful self-understanding would remain beyond one’s grasp.
In my adult years, I have come to identify “self-righteousness” as one of the most troubling traits of all among us human beings. When I confront “self-righteousness” in others, it’s as if there is no opening for truthful engagement. Even in situations where one may be right, it feels all wrong. Truthful self-knowledge requires a capacity to acknowledge one’s own fundamental and enduring need for grace and forgiveness. (One defense against an over-active conscience—I speak from experience—is to over-estimate one’s own righteousness…which includes the certainty that one has overcome self-righteousness.)
In spite of the enlarged concept of my own sinfulness in my formative years (as untruthful as that was), I remain convinced that a meaningful category of sin is an essential defense against self-deception. However, it must be said, without an equally meaningful comprehension of grace, of a love unbounded from the God who created and redeems us, our experience of our human condition will inevitably require a cover-up.
Prayer: Gracious God, may the truth of your love grant me the capacity to know the truth about myself. Amen.