The Slipperiness of Sin (and A Brief ‘Tweak’)

“To say you are a sinner is not to say that you have some black depraved stain on your heart. It is to say that, like the rest of us, you have some perversity in your nature. We want to do one thing, but we end up doing another. We want what we should not want. None of us wants to be hard-hearted, but sometimes we are. No one wants to self-deceive, but we rationalize all the time. No one wants to be cruel, but we all blurt things out and regret them later. No one wants to be a bystander, to commit sins of omission, but, in the words of the poet Marguerite Wilkinson, we all commit the sin of “unattempted loveliness.” We really do have dappled souls. The same ambition that drives us to build a new company also drives us to be materialistic and to exploit. The same lust that leads to children leads to adultery. The same confidence that can lead to daring and creativity can lead to self-worship and arrogance. Sin is not some demonic thing. It’s just our perverse tendency to f*ck things up, to favor the short term over the long term, the lower over the higher. Sin, when it is committed over and over again, hardens into loyalty to a lower love.” -David Brooks, The Road to Character

BTW NOTE: I like aspects of this section. Brooks shows how deceptive sin can be, and how we are tricked by it. But Brooks’s language is a little too weak. He makes us purely ‘unwitting sinners.’ Sinners who always mean to do the right thing for everybody, but get tripped up by well-intended but mistaken motives. I would say this is true of us sometimes, but not all the time. Also, though Brooks objects to the metaphor of a ‘black depraved stain’ on the heart, that language actually is pretty close to how Christianity has talks about sin (Ps. 51, Isaiah 1:18). A better formulation would be to say, we are both enslaved to sin and can be pulled by it in directions we don’t always mean to go, and yet we are also active perpetrators of wrong. It’s not one or the other. It’s both/and. We mess things up, and we willfully do what we want instead of what God wants. You gotta have both dimensions of sin or else the definition is too shallow and one dimensional.


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