A New (Old) Take on Sin

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote “We do not offend God except by doing something contrary to our own good.” I came across that quote recently and was struck by both its simplicity and its implications. One traditional act of contrition states “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you because I dread the loss of heaven and the pain of hell, but most of all because you are all good and deserving of all my love.” Our first reason for doing the right thing should not be because we fear punishment, but because we love God. When we fail in that love, we offend God and commit a sin. Sin is one of those things that most people don’t seem to think about much anymore. As a society, we have lost a sense of sin. Even if one acknowledges that he or she has committed a wrong against another person, one rarely thinks of it as an offense against God. Aquinas puts sin back in its proper perspective.

We have a God who loves us and created us because He wanted us to know, love and serve Him and ultimately be happy with him in heaven. He wants what is good for us. Sometimes, that is hard to understand and accept. After all, there are all those rules. Aren’t they all meant to take away our fun and suck all the pleasure out of life? Sometimes, it can seem that way. But, think for a moment about true human love. If you truly love another person, you want what is best for him or her, even if it is not what might be in your own best interest. Sometimes, that person might not even consider it to be what is best for him or her.

Think of a parent who loves her child. (For the sake of argument, we’ll use a mother. It could just as easily be a father). Parenthood can be one of the most selfless human loves in existence. A mother spends years caring for a child, attempting to form his character, enforcing rules, gently guiding the development of his interests, encouraging, educating, and being a shoulder to cry on. In response, a child often rebels and frequently dislikes the parent. A good mother wants what is best for her child, even though it may cost her dearly. When a child makes a poor decision (regardless of the child’s age), it wounds the parent deeply.

With God, He is the parent and we are the children, except on an even deeper level. We are His creation in a way our own physical children never could be. We did not create our children. God sent them. We welcomed them. They are pure gift. On the other hand, without God’s thought willing us into existence, we would not be. God formed every part of us. He knows every hair on our head, every cell within our bodies, our interests and longings, our hurts and challenges. He sees all that we could be and longs for us to fulfill our purpose. He gives us rules for good behavior so that we might know what to do. He watches us and wants us to make good decisions. He wants us to love Him and love our neighbor in a selfless manner. He wants what is best for us. When we fail, we do offend Him. That is sin.

Aquinas’ quote also offers a question to ask when making decisions. Is this good for me? Is this activity or decision beneficial to my spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being? Is this what God would want me to do? Imagine how life might be different if this was the standard by which we shaped our lives.

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

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Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur writes from western Massachusetts where she lives with her husband and two sons. A Senior Editor with Catholic Lane.com, she blogs at http://spiritualwomanthoughts.blogspot.com

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