This was the question asked all the way back in 1973 by the renowned American psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, M.D. in his book by that same title.
The book itself scarcely sold, and there was little attempt to take up the question further in the halls of medicine, psychotherapy clinics, or even most church sanctuaries.
Speaking of books that scarcely sell, my spiritual autobiography, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone,” https://www.amazon.com/Loves-Resurrection-Power-Fears-Heaviest/dp/1949798259 contains an entire chapter about my own view of “Sin” sandwiched it in between my chapters on “God” and on “Salvation.” There I got a little more academic in my “micro version of systematic theology” as intended for use by spiritual formation programs within nationally accredited seminaries. To date, many American seminaries are sitting on their one free copy I sent them, probably collecting more dust than a King James Bible. But that’s another story.
What happened to sin is that it lost most of its meaning in reference to our post-medieval view of God. Modern mysticism effectively countered a defined view of God as an angry Father in the sky who desired sacrifice far more than obedience. To undefine such a God, we have created a God of all mystery who is more like a Higher Power of one’s own understanding. Or a more disembodied God who renders a kind of universal grace that requires faith far more than works; a spiritual being in the heavens who sends cosmic energy our way upon request. If such a God becomes all things to all people, then the idea of “sin” as opposing such a God becomes, well, no longer a thing.
Just for the sake of speculation here, what if God is more than just a disembodied Spirit of mysterious and mystical proportion? What if God really became incarnated into the infant Jesus of Christmas? And what if that Jesus really did grow up to reveal to humanity what God was like and was NOT like? What if Jesus, by his words and deeds and most certainly his crucifixion was actually defining God as being at once loving and influential, yet not controlling? What if Jesus faced every bit of human fear possible for any of us upon his death only to then reveal God’s uncontrolling love that left him hanging. Literally.
Now that you’ve wandered and wondered into the weeds with me a ways, what if the victory of Christ and this coming Christmas 2021 is actually the victory of God’s loving influence (as defined by the crucified Christ) over God’s opposite, which was and still is our own fearful desire for control?
What if sin was and still is the fear within us that desires having our own control, and not accepting God’s will of loving influence "nevertheless?"
If all God had/has to offer in this cruel world of unjust crucifixion and death is love and influence, instead of control and human manipulation, and the taking away of our cup of suffering, then maybe we’re tempted and inclined toward the sin of fearful control instead.
Maybe we sin by placing our faith in fear and in control and human manipulation and protection from suffering and from injustice and………….maybe that’s how we separate ourselves from the God of Jesus of Christmas and earthly injustice and even crucifixion. Maybe God, as defined by Jesus, has no fear and therefore has no need to take control. Maybe God, as defined by Jesus, has no fear and therefore wills not that out cup of greatest fear be taken away but rather overcome by the superior and ultimate power of loving influence. That which empowers us to ourselves rise again eternal.
Just as we may sin by placing our faith in fear and in the control it craves for the removal of our cup of pain and death, maybe we also sin by placing our doubt in God’s influential but uncontrolling love. Maybe we assume that kind of love is too good to be true. Maybe we assume that kind of love is too weak to be resurrected.
My name is Dan and I’m a sinner. I fear the things I can’t control. I crave the control that only serves to then control me, as a pseudo god would surely offer to do. But in this season of Thanksgiving leading to Advent leading to Christmas leading to love’s Easter resurrection, I am here to help others and myself overcome that sin as together we face our fears rather than escape, avoid, and demand such cups be removed from us. I am here to place my doubt in fearful control and my faith in loving influence as embodied by Jesus Christ, my Higher Power.
Next month: Whatever became of salvation?