How would you define sin? The French philosopher Rémi Brague suggests that the only way, “is to say: sin is what is forgiven” (150).
Maybe that definition is a bit deep. Perhaps we parted company when I wrote, “French philosopher.” So let’s begin again by quoting a different doctor.
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
So you see, Doctor Seuss says the same! But please, do let me explain.
Sorry, difficult to stop talking like that.
The problem with having a “heart two sizes too small” is not knowing that you do. You think, that’s simply the way life is. Something has to force its way into your heart and open it. Then you realize that it’s been shut all along.
That’s Brague’s point. If God simply is truth and goodness, unity and beauty, then beyond God there really is nothing. There is only falsehood, the lack of goodness, and the ugliness of disorder. That’s why in finding God we also find ourselves. When we discover God we also discover that, until then, we were lost.
Sin isn’t about disobeying a rule-giver in the sky. Sin is losing our way, losing our very selves, and, sadly, not even knowing that our heart “is two sizes too small.”
Here’s how Pope Francis puts it in Evangelii Gaudium, “Some people think they are free if they can avoid God; they fail to see that they remain existentially orphaned, helpless, homeless. They cease being pilgrims and become drifters, flitting around themselves and never getting anywhere” (§170).
Jesus answered the query of the Baptist’s disciples—are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?—by saying,
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Mt 11: 4-5).
Christ is the Messiah, Christ is God because Christ does what only God can do. He heals. He gives life to those who didn’t know it was lost.
Many folk lament the loss of a sense of sin in contemporary life, but that shouldn’t surprise us. To sin is to act against one’s own person, to lose the self by surrendering truth and goodness, unity and beauty. Of course sin blinds! Conversely, confessionals aren’t dark corners for sinners. They’re portals of light. Only the found seek them out.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God (Is 35:2)
Living in the light, every Who down in Whoville sing songs of Christmas, despite the Grinch having stolen their trees and presents
And the Grinch with his grinch-feet ice cold in the snow
Stood puzzling and puzzling, “How could it be so?
“It came without ribbons. It came without tags!
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
Réme Brague is right. Sin is “what is forgiven.” Before it’s forgiven, before the light, there is only the dark. When hearts break open to light, they grow.
And what happened then…?
Well… in Whoville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10 James 5: 7-10 Matthew 11: 2-11