You cannot understand sin without understanding time

If we are God’s creation, then history is God’s workshop because it is only over time that we become or fail to become the creatures whom God intended. Perhaps a comparison is helpful. Rocks do not change much in time. Like most material objects, they simply disintegrate. And the living force, which quickens the animals, also does not change much as the days pass. Beyond a decline in physical prowess, an old raccoon is essentially a young raccoon.

It is only over time that we become or fail to become the creatures whom God intended.

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We humans, on the other hand, are constantly in the process of becoming. Just think of all the changes that we undergo between the ages of 14 and 40. Indeed, something like Facebook exists so that we can see how different our summer selves are from our yuletide selves.

This was the great insight of what is called existentialist philosophy. Squirrels do not really make choices about how to be squirrels. Teenagers do. We create ourselves in time. Or, to put it in a properly Christian perspective, we respond or fail to respond to God’s dreams for us. God knows what to expect when he creates a new dolphin. It is the Merediths and Melissas that can surprise.

We sin when we fail to become who were meant to be.

Pondering our relationship to time can help us to understand sin, which is more than a transgression of some divine law. It is essentially our failure to become God’s dream for us. If you want to speak of sin in legal terms, then you must say that the law broken is God’s blueprint for our lives. It is not something external to us. We sin when we fail to become who were meant to be.

The New Testament’s word for sin, harmatia, literally means “missing the mark,” like an errant arrow. We sin when we miss the mark God set in creating us. That is why we sin in both what we do and in what we fail to do: because each set of decisions determines who we become.

We sin when we miss the mark God set in creating us.

Pondering our relationship to time is a good run-up to our readings, which talk about the relationship of time and sin. The Book of Wisdom addresses God by saying:

You gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins (12:19)

Repentance is a profoundly human change, which means that it can only happen in time, over time, given enough time.

Jesus is clearly synchronized with Wisdom when he speaks of the wheat and weeds, which necessarily grow together until the time of harvest. Certainly in a field—and definitely in our lives—it is not immediately clear which is which. So the great grace, the great mercy of God are the days of our lives, days in which we grow, learn, expand, ripen.

The great grace, the great mercy of God are the days of our lives, days in which we grow, learn, expand, ripen.

Emily Dickinson brilliantly puts all of this into three stanzas, 12 pungent lines of poetry. Who we will be in the next life depends upon who we are becoming in this one.

Forever – is composed of Nows – 
‘Tis not a different time – 
Except for Infiniteness – 
And Latitude of Home – 

From this – experienced Here – 
Remove the Dates – to These – 
Let Months dissolve in further Months – 
And Years – exhale in Years – 

Without Debate – or Pause – 
Or Celebrated Days – 
No different Our Years would be 
From Anno Dominies –

Here on earth, we change as we travel through the hours of a clock or the months of a calendar. In eternity, all that we have been and all that we will have become is gathered up into a whole. “Forever is composed of nows.” Nothing disappears in eternity, save sin. It is only given broader scope. The Anno Dominies, the years of the Lord passed in heaven, are not divided up by time. The child and the adult are one.

Here, we live in time, and, as long as we do, we change in time. There, we will live beyond time or, at the least, beyond the diminishment that happens here in time. “Forever is composed of nows.” And this is the time, when we are still in time, to create nows worthy of life with God.

Readings: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19 Romans 8:26-27 Matthew 13:24-43

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Michael Barberi
4 months ago

A nice article but is little too abstract or general. It really does not describe or explain what the Catholic Church (CC) calls 'sin'.

If sin is 'missing the mark', then I would ask Terrance "what is the mark"? From the article I think you would say Jesus Christ is the mark and I will not disagree. However, I would ask you a dozen very specific questions (as most people would). If you say a sin is "what the CC says is a sin", I would challenge you on that point. Consider the fact that many teachings that are called intrinsically evil and sinful are not received by worldwide Catholics and are disputed theologically by many moral theologians, priests and bishops (e.g., contraception).

You say 'one cannot understand sin without understanding time'. That is right. When it comes to "time", what was morally permitted (slavery) is now prohibited, what was morally prohibited (freedom of religion) is now permitted.

I do agree that we are all sinners and with God's grace we are all hopefully becoming what God expects us to be. This means striving to love God and neighbor as best we can and trying to live our lives in accordance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This as you rightly say takes a lifetime.

Henry George
3 months 3 weeks ago

Would that Pastors might quote John the Baptist by saying:
Now is the Time for Repentance !
Instead of telling us to wish everyone a good Sunday Morning and spending more time on the what is in the Weekly Bulletin than in the
Scripture Readings.

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