The real problem we have with sin, and why it's so easy for us to create this hierarchy of more sinful and less sinful sin, is that we have come to embrace the idea that sin is an integral part of who we are. Specifically, our sin is part of what makes us...us. My sin is part of what makes me beautiful.
It's part of what makes me perfect.
It sounds silly when we say it that way, doesn't it? "My imperfection is part of what makes me perfect." But this is one of the dominant affirmations of our society. Sometimes, we dismiss sin and consider ourselves perfect - "Oh, you messed up, but that's okay. You're perfect just the way you are." Sometimes, we embrace sin and consider ourselves perfect - "God gave you that kind of spirit that leads you into that kind of trouble, and for you, that's perfect. It is just who God made you to be."
We are far too comfortable with the idea that somehow, God made us to be sinners. It's inane.
Is this really what we think? Are we really making the argument that we're perfect because God formed us in our imperfectness? Does God make broken things and then call them beautiful? Was there any imperfection in the original creation, before sin, that God was somehow able to call "good"? That's what we're saying. Are we really saying that?
Yes, we are really saying that.
And that is what enables us to look in the mirror every morning. It's what keeps us from condemning ourselves all day long. See, if we believe that our imperfections are part of what makes us perfect, we do not have to carry around the heavy burden of grace. We don't. We can just be whoever we are, do whatever we want, and determine that this is probably okay. It might even be more than okay; it might even be good. After all, God's creation is good, and we are God's creation.
But this is also what makes us look at someone else and determine they are not so good. They might not even be okay. They might be...broken. Imperfect. Bad. Condemned. Because our sin makes us perfect, but their sin is not our sin; it's something different. We don't struggle with the same things they struggle with. We don't fail in the same ways they do. What they struggle with, the places where they fail...those are weird struggles, bad places. They don't make any sense to us. So we see the broken places in ourselves, and these are okay, but we see the rotten places in them, and they aren't just broken; they are decaying. Sinners!
And this, too, is all so that we do not have to carry around the heavy burden of grace.
See, grace is hard. It tries to make sense of the insensible. It tries to put some order into chaos. It takes work. It's hard to figure out. It's tougher still to live.
But if I'm perfect, even with all my flaws, and you're not, because of yours, then this whole grace thing is easy - I don't need it and you don't deserve it. Done. Make no room for it.
If I start to try to extend the categories, though - in either direction - that's when grace starts to get hard. I could say that since I am perfect with my flaws, you must be perfect with yours. But that would require me to have some grace for you. It would require me to make some sense out of your mess, to put some understanding in your chaos. I would have to invest the time and energy to discover who you are and why what you're doing works for you, how it is a part of the fabric of your being (assuming, of course, that I continue to buy the lie that God weaves these ugly threads of sin into our very beings, which He doesn't). But if I extend to you the same understanding I have for myself, well, that reveals grace. Does it not? It requires it.
And I discover, in having grace for you, that I also have grace for myself. Here's that heavy burden again.
But maybe I go the other direction. Maybe I say that if you are not perfect because of your flaws, then I cannot be perfect with mine. Here, too, I am faced with grace, for I cannot live a life that I condemn. I can't. I can't get up every morning and look in the mirror and handle myself if I'm not perfect. At least, if I'm not perfect and I don't have grace. So if I am unwilling to extend grace to you, I must be unwilling to extend it to myself, and here, I discover my desperate need for it. And yours, as well.
So no matter which way I turn, whether I turn toward me or toward you, whether I start with perfection or something less, I am faced with grace, and it is a burden I simply cannot carry. A burden I don't want to carry. So I content myself with the logically inconsistent position that I'm perfect, just the way I am. Warts and all. Sin and all. It's just who I am. And you're not because you're an ugly, stupid sinner that I just can't understand and shouldn't have to.
I'm a fruit tree; you're a thornbush. I grow fruit; you grow poison berries.
I don't need grace, and you don't deserve it.
Easy, peasy. Right? And all because I am willing to accept a measure of imperfection in my perfectness. All because I can convince myself that broken is the way I was made, that God intended me to be this way. And, ironically, that He intended so much more for you.
It's messy, this. It's so messy. Why can we not just embrace grace? For ourselves, for each other, for our fallen world? We all need it. None of us deserves it, but we all need it. And it's right there. Right there for our taking. God gives it freely, so we don't have to get lost in all these mental gymnastics of self-justification. It's a burden, yes, this grace is. It's hard. It requires something form us. It takes work.
But it's amazing. So amazing....