Let’s talk sin and salvation.
Here’s what might have happened.
Things like this have happened.
Over the telephone, the two of us settled on the date, the time, and the place.
I put the date, the time, and the place into my calendar book, which I carry around with me (most of the time). The young man wanted to talk with me about a book he had started to write. He had written stories, but this was his first try at a book-length story—a novel.
He had read my recent memoir. He was over-complimentary about it, but I liked his earnestness and his initiative. He had tracked me down. Turned out I lived on a peninsula not too far from his own, each of us being Maine coast writers.
We decided to meet for lunch at a country store that I knew made good salmon BLTs because it was about four miles from my house. It was about thirty miles from his house, but he said he did not want to inconvenience me with travel.
I could tell our meeting would be a big event for him. Like many young writers, he had passion for his nascent craft and a keen desire to develop colleagues. I liked what I knew of him already.
The day of our lunch arrived. The lunch was marked on my calendar. I had noticed our appointment the evening before when I checked my calendar about tomorrow.
About mid-morning, unannounced, a friend of mine—a lobsterman who was a deacon at our church—pulled into our drive. I knew he had been toying for several months with getting back into raising bees. He and I stood around his pickup truck, leaning over the sides of its bed and talked bees. He’d tracked down a man in a village about forty miles inland who was tired of bees and had hives for sale.
“Let’s go get them,” my friend said. “Want to go?”
I didn’t have anything planned for the day, and I’d done enough writing already that morning. My wife Channa was off doing things of her own. It was always fun rambling around the back roads of Maine with my deacon friend. “Sure.”
Off we went.
You already know how this sin happened. You live in the same world I do. It’s a fallen world, and you and I are fallen creatures.
Maybe you are not a person who forgets. But it’s a fallen world even so…for you, too.
What the devil likes is to find a crack in us and to wedge himself inside that crack and to widen that crack just a little, so we cause pain to those around us.
Channa was home when my deacon friend and I came back from our trip, his pickup filled with hives and extra supers and hive tools and other bee stuff. She was smiling. “How’d your lunch go?”
Over the telephone, the young writer said he forgave me—what else could he say?—but he was never available when I tried twice to make a replacement date with him.
I have two brains in me. One is a trying-to-be-a-better-man brain. The other is a don’t-bother-to-be-a-better-man brain. The first has a sunnier attitude than the second. However—here’s the other side—the first brain is anxious much of the time while the second brain gets little flashes of illicit pleasure.
To be sure, those flashes of illicit pleasure are instantly stamped out. My consciousness is shamed that they exist.
But the devil has his wily way when he whispers to me (not that I am aware that I hear him)—“No, no. You’re free all day today. Don’t bother to look at your calendar. What fun it will be to ramble the back roads of Maine and pick up bees.”
To forget is an ordinary human occurrence. Most people who have a tendency to forget have developed tactics to avoid forgetting. Make a note on a calendar, for example. What is sin is to allow your don’t-bother-to-be-a-better-man brain to accept the whisper of the devil that, of course, you need not look at your calendar when you are flushed with the sudden pleasurable anticipation of a bee ramble in Maine.
Before I was a Christian believer, I had an unsubtle notion of sin. Forgetting a lunch appointment is not sin, I would have said. I am not a sinner. I forgot a lunch appointment, that’s all.
But I was miserable. The young writer was miserable that an older writer apparently rejecting him.
But that’s not sin. Sin is the big stuff. Sin is murdering someone.
When I, a Jew, grappled with the possibility that Jesus truly might be the answer to my persistent miserable behavior (and to behavior that was misery-making for those I loved), I said that same thing to the man with whom I consulted about Jesus.
He was a pastor.
Arguing with him, I separated sin (murder) from allowing myself to be tempted by the devil with a day hunting for bees (not sin).
I intoned, “I don’t murder people.”
“But you could.”
“Dikkon, in fact there is no ultimate difference between you, and me, and Charles Manson.”
“What are you talking about!”
“I’m talking about whether there is an ultimate difference.”
“I would not murder Sharon Tate!”
“I agree. I don’t think you would. But you could have.”
“Think about it. You’re a smart man. And you’re honest with yourself. Is there an ultimate difference between you and Charles Manson? Think about it.”
I thought about it. He waited a bit and then prodded me. “Aren’t the differences that you are hanging onto in your mind, between you and him, really just circumstantial?”
“They are important circumstantial, but circumstantial just the same.”
“Maybe doesn’t cut it, Dikkon. You’d better think some more.”
I thought some more.
And when I thought some more, I realized that I needed forgiveness for sin.
I possess a sin nature. Consistently, I allow the devil to tug at me whenever he wants. And I sin.
So—just to be clear—I never murdered anyone. But my behavior makes me and everyone I love miserable, part of the time.
What’s the solution?
Simon Peter, the Rock on Whom Jesus Built His Church, wrote us two letters. He wrote them to his own people in his own time, but they are for us, now, too.
In his second letter, Peter—who knew Jesus personally yet possessed a sin nature, just as I do and as you do—Peter laid it on the line. He gives us the solution.
Jesus, Peter writes, “has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them [we] may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (II Peter, 1:4 ESV)
Peter goes on to speak to those who have faith. Faith, he reminds us, is not enough in itself.
To me (and maybe to you), he prompts, “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (II Peter, 1:5-6 ESV, emphasis mine)
I’ve been an orthodox Christian believer for eleven years. I’m still at Step Two yearning toward Step Three. And to reach up even within touching distance of steadfastness would make me weep with relief.
One reason I love Peter is that this impulsive man is so gentle with the readers of his letters.
He doesn’t exhort. He reminds.
In 1:12, he gives us grace by referring to the hierarchy of glory and excellence this way. “I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.”
Indeed, when I am miserable and devil-tugged, I go back to Peter, who was just a guy like me, and I am grateful that he took the time to remind me of the truth.