Sin, Forgiveness and Interfaith Dialogue

Talk Better Together, one of my favorite events hosted by the Interfaith Center, was held November 20TH, 2014 in the lounge shared by the Women’s Center and the Interfaith Center.. With this being the last Talk Better Together of the semester, I was excited to participate in the dialogue but sad that I would have to wait until spring to be in this setting again. The topic for this Talk Better Together was SIN and wrong-doing. Yes, sin. Sin that is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as an offense against moral or religious law; an action that is felt to be highly reprehensible; a vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God; or a very serious shortcoming. Let’s just say I was a little less than excited…

As a Christian, more specifically a Christian raised in a Southern Baptist Church, I have very specific ideas of what sin is and what sin is not based on countless sermons that I have heard about sin at church. The one that sticks out to me the most is “the wages of sin is death”. I was interested what Matt, the interpreter of the Christian text, would have to say about this subject and what scripture he would use as evidence that sin is bad. I also wanted to know what other faiths viewed as sinful and what the penalty is for those who commit sins.

The night began as it always does with a good meal. This time we had Publix subs, hummus, and pumpkin pie. Yumm! Familiar faces took their usual seats, and some people who were joining us for the first time came in and began to mingle until we checked in, went over the safe-space guidelines and got started with the text study and discussion. Hana Ashchi, the former president of Better Together at UNF and recent alum always presents the Bahai’text.

The Bahai’text Hana referenced stated that sins included back-biting, violence, and harm to others. The Baha’i don’t believe that we are born sinful but that sin exists outside of us. The text emphasized that what is sinful is “acts whereby hearts and soul may be saddened”. To get forgiveness for these sins from God, the Baha’i pray but they also must get forgiveness for the person that they hurt or saddened. No punishment. No complicated system of repentance. Just asking for forgiveness sincerely from God and the person is enough. I have to admit that I this didn’t sit well with me, it just seemed too easy.

Next was the Christian text presented by Matt. He referenced Romans 7:14-25, written by the Apostle Paul. In this Paul communicates that as humans we would like to do good but evil is always present. Paul explained us as two things, spirit and flesh. The spirit is willing to do right but the flesh is weak and often succumbs to temptation. Paul explained that it is the desires of the flesh that cause us to suffer. We discussed what flesh means in this context and had some interesting discussion about if we were born to sin or if sin is something that we can avoid. I’m not sure what we decided. It is possible that we could have discussed this all night and still not come to “the answer”. What I did notice that even in this text it seemed too easy to be forgiven. Like all you have to do is ask and you shall receive. I was still very skeptical.

Yalda presented the Muslim text. She stated that in the Muslim faith, they believe that we are born sinless and that sin begins to count when we hit puberty. There are minor sins and major sins. Major sins include adultery, believing in more than one God, murder and suicide. What I gathered from the discussion is that some Muslims believe that sins can be forgiven by small acts of charity and sincerity. That’s it? Hmm, I was noticing a trend in the text. I was interested to say what the Jewish text would say about repentance and forgiveness.

Last but not least, Rachael presented the Jewish text. She pointed out that in Judaism there is no word for sin. Instead sin means “missing the mark” of righteousness. In Leviticus 16:22-30 the sins of the people are sent off into the wilderness on a goat. I learned that this is the origin of scapegoating. Who knew? In present day, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement for Jews. On this day they not only confess their own sins but the sins of their communities. On this day, Jews ask for forgiveness from God and from those around them that they have hurt.

With all of this new information about sin, I must admit that I left the text study with my head spinning. All of my life I have thought of sin as something awful and terrible. I also felt like if I wanted God to forgive me then I need to jump through hoops to prove that I was worthy and that I would never do these things again. But what I got from all of these texts is that it doesn’t take much to be forgiven. If I am sincere in my asking and make an honest effort to try better then God will forgive me. This is comforting but scary and I am still working to make peace with this idea because I’m not completely sure if I believe it yet. I do know that I have been thinking about sin differently. If I miss the mark then the next time I can try harder to get it right and I am hoping that is enough!

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