Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reflections on Proverbs: The Toils of Sin, Part 7

Finally! Here is our last post on the Toils of Sin. Whew. That took longer than I expected. Thank you all for your patience.

As a reminder, our verses for this series on the toils of sin are these:

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
  and he is caught in the toils of his sin. Proverbs 5:22

There are six things which the Lord hates,
  seven which are an abomination to him;
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
  and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
  feet that make haste to run to evil,
false witness who breathes out lies,
  and a man who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19

Today, we're ending our reflections on sin with the final sin listed as an abomination to God: sowing discord among brothers.

I have found reflecting on this sin particularly difficult. I am a first-born pleaser who wants everyone to play nicely and get along. Peace and harmony are a priority for me, and in many ways, I surround myself with friends who do not sow discord. Perhaps sowers of discord avoid me because they sense that I'm not going to allow their divisiveness to affect my group.

In my personal life, this sin feels distant and hard to relate to, but when I cast my mind into the public sphere, it comes home. Politics has never been a place of harmony and niceness, but today's climate of polarized parties feels particularly toxic. This polarization seems true from local politics (our school board...oh, my!) all the way to global relations.

Discord among brothers happens easily enough without sinister forces encouraging it. When we see extremists on either side of the political spectrum manipulating the media, creating sensational stories without basis in fact, distracting the government, the media, and us with mirages, we need to be very, very careful how we react.

But how do we know the stories are false?

There's the rub. It's nearly impossible to know.

Another fact that confuses this sin is that sometimes, the sowers are not even aware they are doing anything wrong. I've watched threads on Facebook turn nasty in an instant when someone posts something inflammatory. One Facebook thread in our neighborhood group pops immediately to mind. Someone posted something incredibly nasty, and a number of people jumped in, shouting through their keyboards.

Once things had gotten out of hand, the originator of the thread actually stepped in and apologized. She said her husband pointed out to her that her language had been inappropriate and unkind. She hadn't meant to sow discord, but in her overly emotional state, she'd over-reacted. One could sense from her apology that she both confused and embarrassed by the result of her ill-chosen words.

This is where grace and forgiveness step into the picture. Her apology was accepted, others also apologized, and harmony was restored. And this is where we can see that sowers of discord among brothers may not always be sinister operatives in the shadows...they can be any one of us, over-reacting and venting unhealthily in a group, working against harmony, however unintentionally.

When we look at sowing discord among brothers this way, I am guilty as charged. Aren't we all at some time in our lives guilty as charged?

Fortunately, we have a framework for return to harmony as soon as we realize we've sinned. Apologize. Ask forgiveness. Pray for mercy, grace, and forgiveness. And when another needs our mercy, grace, and forgiveness, we give them freely. As they have been given to us.

Let he or she who has not sinned cast the first stone.

In Conclusion on Sin

Notice how all the sins God hates hurt others...individually and in community. Pride, lying, violence, conspiracy, hasty evil, false witness, and sowing discord disrupt relationships and communities. Getting along requires us all to behave, but most of the time, it's so much easier to see how others are sinning than how we ourselves might be guilty, too. 

But we are all sinners, all flawed, all separated from God by our pride and our self-righteousness. We live in a democracy where we are all equal in sin and all equally loved by God. Instead of making us feel bad or ashamed or unworthy because of our sin, God loves us through it all, forgives us each and every moment of each and every day. When we own our sins and acknowledge our unworthiness, we humble ourselves before an amazing God who washes us clean by His death on the cross, welcomes us into His kingdom, and crowns us as His beloved children.

It saddens me to think that there are people who wallow in the shame of their sin, who believe they are too contaminated to be forgiven by God or anyone else. I'm particularly sad when Christians encourage this shame and sow discord between others and God. No one has sunk too low for God to redeem. No one.

If you have not yet humbled yourself before God and asked his forgiveness for your sins, please let go of shame. Open your heart to His love and forgiveness. I promise you. It will change your life.

If you have committed yourself to following Jesus, don't slip into pride or self-righteousness...oh how easy it is to slip! Stay alert to your own sin, and remember to thank God for his blessings and share them with the world.  

Let us pay God's love and forgiveness forward in a world that desperately needs love and forgiveness.