Sin weakens relationships
Alice L Laffey, Holy Cross, MA  01610


Biblical notions of sin always presuppose relationships—with God, with a community, with individuals, with elements of the earth we inhabit. In the Bible, God’s generous and loving act of creation initiates the divine-human relationship from which all other relationships are derived. The essential covenant formula is expressed as “I am your God; you are my people…” (Jer 31: 1, 33; cf. Exod 19:4-6a). Sin, then, is not a doctrine but a failure to render a faithful response to God or to God’s creation.

Sins weaken relationships. Two episodes about Saul and David point to differences in how one can respond to sin. Saul sinned by not offering to God the spoils of war that rightly belonged to God (i.e., 1 Sam 15:9); when the prophet Samuel confronted Saul with his sin, he rationalized. As a consequence, God determined that Saul was unfit to rule. On the other hand, David sinned by taking another man’s wife, Bathsheba, and then having her husband killed (2 Sam 11:4, 21); when the prophet Nathan confronted David, he acknowledged his sin and repented. He was punished and was reconciled with God. The failure to love God and neighbor weakens the relationship with God and one another.

Today we recognize that there is such a thing as environmental sin, a failure to appreciate all of God’s creation in a manner that values and sustains it. The OT commands that no work is to be done by “your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock” as well as by you , your children or your slaves (Deut 5:14). Note that God makes a covenant with all creation: “I will make a covenant for you on that day with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground, and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land…” (Hos 2:18).

Vatican II has shifted the emphasis from fear of God’s punishment for unfaithfulness to a celebration of God’s love and forgiveness. The pendulum may have shifted so far in the opposite direction, however, that we need to ask, “What ever happened to sin?”


SIN: A History by Gary A. Anderson (Yale University Press, 2009)

1.The unbearable weight of sin.
In the ritual of the scapegoat, “[t]he animal assumed the weight of Israel’s sins and carries them to the heart of the desert... the physical material of the sin that had rested on the shoulders of every Israelite must be carted away into oblivion.” (p. 6)
2. Physical punishment

The second Isaiah envisioned the exile in Babylon after 587 BC as physical punishment for Israel’s sin. “When her suffering had reached this goal, Isaiah was able to proclaim: ‘Comfort, comfort my people... she has received from the Lord’s hand double [punishment] for her sin’” (p. 8)
3. Doing good deeds
By the time of the Second Temple, the ideal of good deeds had become accepted. “Tobit advises his son... [that] one who gives alms on a regular basis ‘will be laying up a good treasure for onesel'f” (p. 9)
4. Forgiving one’s debtors
Jesus tought "Forgive us our debts just as we forgive our debtors." This image is illustrated by the parable of the king who forgave the debt of an imploring slave (Matt 18:23-34) (p. 7). Redemption as remission of sins involves forgiveness by God and by other human beings.


1. Sin weakens relationships with God, self, neighbors, family, coworkers, friends, church. What are the positive and sinful aspects of your ethic of relationships?

2. For Paul sin is learned though the Law (or through conscience for those without Law); yet many seem to have no sense of sin, neither through the Law nor conscience. How do you explain that?

3. What is the difference between sin and guilt feelings, which are socially learned and easily manipulated?

4. In the past, the celibate church considered sexual misbehavior the greatest sin. In unequal societies, it is disobedience that was/is portrayed as the greatest sin. What is the greatest or archetypal sin to you?

5. Sociopaths are people without any sense of guilt, no matter how great their crime. How would you explain sin to them e.g. in class?

To join the discussion group write to hegy@adelphi.edu