The List. It’s destructive. It’s offensive. It’s subjective, and it’s wrong.
I’m talking about the List that we create about which sins are okay and which sins are not. Almost all of us have a List. Even non-religious sorts. What’s funny about our individual List is that it usually allows the sins in which we are currently engaged but disallows the sins that other people are doing.
Small lies are okay. Swearing is okay if you do it on accident. Lingering over the Victoria Secret catalog is okay unless your wife catches you doing it. Then it’s very not okay. Telling gossip is okay. Having someone gossip about you is not okay. Speeding is okay, but cutting me off is not okay.
Every church I’ve ever attended has a List. It’s not posted anywhere, but it’s communicated. In one church my family attended, our Sunday School class had a heated argument about whether or not it was okay to wear shorts to church. One side contended that we aren’t under the Law, and the other side countered that shorts could cause the older members of the church to stumble in their walk. Good stuff. Better than WWE, because these guys weren’t pulling their punches. I think we could have split over the issue of manpris.
The List repels people from our churches. They come to visit and realize that they are the only ones in the whole place who have a tattoo or a piercing or multi-colored hair or a second marriage or children out of wedlock or a smoking addiction, and they never want to come back again. Or sometimes the pastor gives a sermon about “those” homosexuals or “those” liberals or “those” women who have had an abortion and reveals his bias and what will be inferred as the bias of the church. What if “those” people are in the audience? Or even, what if their friends or family are in the audience? Are they going to feel like this church is a place where they can come for grace and healing?
Here’s the thing. Sin is sin is sin is sin is sin. From the momentary loss of temper to child molestation. (Notice I’m revealing my own bias.) All of it separates us from a holy God. Our List deceives us into thinking that we’re okay where we are at…..that we don’t have that much work to do. It gives us a smug satisfaction that at least we’re better than the guy nextdoor. Our List is self-serving and leads to complacency in our walk, while at the same time making us unapproachable to those who are struggling.
It’s not that some sin isn’t worse that other sin. (Child molestation IS worse than a temper flare-up.) It’s that categorizing it doesn’t lead us or anyone else closer to God. Let Him assign the point values. Our arbitrary rating system doesn’t come from Him anyway.
What would serve us and God better would be if we recognized that sin is the one thing that we all have in common. When we meet the person who’s addicted to crystal meth, we should be able to identify, because we’ve been tricked by the Enemy, as well. We’ve believed his lies and bought what he’s selling. Maybe we’re not addicted to drugs, but we are addicted to our comfortable life or our pride or our money. Ironically, the drug addict may be better off, because he at least knows what’s separating him from God. We might be oblivious.
But if we’ve got a hidden List, it’s impossible for us to connect with the addict and serve him with our whole heart. While we may not say that we think we are better than he is, we’ll communicate it through the things we say, the things we don’t say, how we say what we say, how we listen, how we make eye contact, what we are willing to do for him and where we draw the line… If we really want to help him, if we want to allow him his dignity, we’ve got to stop focusing on whose sin is worse and whose sin is better.
Can we agree to throw out the List? Can we stop trying to prioritize sin and recognize that this game is just another diversionary tactic from the Enemy? If he can get us inspecting and judging, he keeps us from loving our neighbor. Forget whatever sin our neighbor has done. He’s our neighbor! We are called to love him no matter what. And besides, “there but for the grace of God…”
If you’re with me on this, mentally crumple up your List of prioritized sins and toss it into the fireplace. It won’t stay gone, unfortunately. I know from experience that the List is a powerful paradigm, and it influences so much of how I think and what I do. I crumple it and throw it out only to later find it where I left it. But be persistent. Get to really know people who struggle with “those” sins, and you’ll find that your list gets shorter. Look for what you have in common with them, and you’ll see that we’re not so different after all.