Yesterday, we looked at a portion of the Law that talks about what should happen when someone sins unintentionally. In other words, when a man doesn't know he's sinned. And that requires two things - it requires the man be humble enough to listen to his brother tell him about his sin and it requires his community to be humble enough to embrace responsibility for unknown sin.
But it still leaves the nagging question, really, how does a man sin and not even know it? In a world in which we are responsible for our own actions and in which we want to hold everyone else responsible for theirs, it seems impossible that someone could sin and not know it. They did, after all, sin, didn't they?
And we're living in a time with absolutely zero forgiveness for what we consider some of the bigger sins, which is a rather interesting time to be in. We know that in this country, we've had a history of racism. For the longest time, we tried to combat racism at the system level, figuring if we could change the system, we'd eliminate the sin. But we didn't really call it a sin, and for the longest time, we didn't even call it wrong.
If it wasn't wrong, how were the people committing it supposed to know it was a sin?
This is not at all to defend racism. That's not what I'm getting at. Rather, what I am trying to highlight is that there are situations in which men do things that might be considered wrong, but they aren't considered wrong at the time, so the man doesn't know that he's doing something wrong.
It's the same way with a lot of sins. Most of the stuff that men do to one another? They don't do it maliciously. They don't do it out of hate or out of a conscious decision to trouble someone else. Rather, it's more often something that they've been taught, something that's come naturally out of the life they have lived and the experiences they have had. To them, it's natural and reasonable and right because that's the way their world works. They honestly don't know any better, and they don't know it's sin.
A friend asked not too long ago if a toxic person knows that he's toxic. The answer is...sometimes, although he probably hasn't always known. Most often, he's mimicking the relational patterns of his own family and they are patterns that have worked for him. It's how he knew, in his own system, that he was loved, so it's how he shows love now, even though it doesn't work for someone he actually loves. She, having grown up in a different relational system - or perhaps even the same one, but broken free of it as an adult - sees plainly what is not love in his style.
In other words, he doesn't love her any less, but they disagree on how to show it. And so no, he doesn't know he's toxic; he thinks he's loving.
There comes, usually, a time when he begins to understand how broken his own experience was and sees the toxicity of his relational style. Trying desperately to change it, he's unable to make the great strides he wants to make. In this case, he knows he's toxic and may even understand a little of why, but it doesn't change his behavior; he's still sinning, technically, even though he doesn't want to. (Aren't we all?)
Everything we do, everything about us, comes out of the experiences that we've had. Broken experiences make us broken people. They change our definitions and understandings of things, and they shape the way we interact in our world. It's why we have to have grace for each other - because you don't know how someone else is defining his experience. You don't know how his heart is approaching his behavior.
Is it possible to sin without knowing it? Absolutely. In fact, we should go so far as to say that most of our sin is done without our knowing it. Because we are partly correct - if we knew it was a sin, we probably wouldn't do it.
So we live with grace, and we give others the benefit of the doubt. What would happen if you did? What would happen if you believed that everyone was doing their best and had pure intentions for their actions? If they weren't trying to sin, but rather, they just were?
See yesterday's comments on humility for that one.