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  • Reverend James Squire

Whatever Became of Sin?

My special interest in the relationship between theology and psychology started when I was studying at Berkeley at Yale and Duke and continued to present day. My mentor at Yale was Dr. John Romig Johnson who was a follower of Carl Jung’s perspective. He challenged me and believed in me. That was all I needed. I believe that part of our difficulty today has been the loss of dialogue between theology and psychology to join hands and learn and to inform one another to take that wisdom to make us a better world. We are traveling on the road of life without any off ramps to handle our concerns as individuals, a nation, and the world.

Presently we attempt to reach healing as a nation and a world by just using the language of psychology over theology such as “Trump is a narcissist.” These two disciplines need to be fused more so that we can find an off ramp of division and then receiving healing. We keep moving forward on the highway of life as though we will never run out of gas. We have let off ramps go by without a glance.

We have forgotten about language that includes sin defined in a very specific way as alienation from self, others, and God. Can you remember the last time that you heard that word, sin, used in a public forum with that definition. I am not referring to merging religion with politics. I believe in separation of Church and State. I am talking about a way to describe behavior that labels our times of failing short not as a as psychological dysfunction but as alienation from self, others, and God. Both disciplines are needed, but currently the homeostasis, the vital balance, is forgetting that theology and psychology are the opposite sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other to produce the currency for growth and healing.

Theology gives us an off ramp for all the alienation of global division but also the alienation of two political parties in our nation, as well as alienation for our own sense of self leaving us broken and fragmented. People are saying that they have been through a lot and are broken. That is a condition calling for a response.

Karl Menninger founded a famous psychiatric center in the Midwest, and also wrote a book in 1973 with the title, Whatever Became of Sin? One of my supervisors in counseling studied there so I was very open to hear Menninger’s message. Words matter! One of our nation’s problems is that we don’t have an off ramp to leave our current highway of despair and division. Menninger’s major point is that if we forget the meaning of sin, we have no way to institute acts of forgiveness to move on. I am not talking about a Bible thumping TV evangelist’s meaning of the word, sin, which implies send in your money and I will l offer you forgiveness. I am talking about sin as alienation from self, others, and God, a phrase that describes the current dis-ease, but also forgiveness that will also potentially lead us to a cure.

I know of no other word that points to our dilemma as individuals, as a nation, and as citizens of the world than the word, “sin” defined as alienation from self, others, and God. It captures the essence of our current dilemma.

All of our presidents have had challenges where they rose to the occasion and merged matters of the mind, body, and soul to deal with war, personal pain, and disunity, but, in my opinion, no one greater than President Lincoln. He was very aware of the necessity of the spiritual dimension to identify the dilemma, state it, and provide the cure.

Lincoln wrote: “I have been driven many times upon my knees, the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

Then he wrote this prayer in 1863 to be part of the first National Day of Prayer. Although he wrote it from a Christian perspective, other religions of the world have some form of this pray as a way of overcoming separation from self, others, and God including Judaism with the holy days of Rosh Hashanah where people seek out those who they offended and ask for forgiveness. It is followed by the Feast of the Atonement some ten days later known as the ten days of repentance where Jews become at one with God and their fellow man.

“Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy Will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people, the multitude brought hither out of many kindred and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of many those in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy government of Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”.

He who does not have a language and a process to bring about wholeness will default to division and alienation. Lincoln’s words and prayer and its spirit point to the dilemma, the cure and a possible way to have a better life as individuals, as a nation, and as a world.

I am not referring to people around the world saying this prayer on a daily basis although if they could say it with their own religious background included, that would be helpful. It is the spirit of this prayer that counts. This prayer can be a guide for us as people and a nation. Everything that is needed to discover an off ramp to a better place is right there. Like Lincoln, let’s look for the spirit of the prayer as opposed to words of despair that easily keep us on the highway of life passing each sign for an off ramp knowing that we will eventually run out of gas. That never ending ride will be fraught with danger, destruction, power seeking, and alienation.

Without a vision, the people perish! We need to lift our eyes to the higher ground. It is then that we will notice that there are many off ramps that we have failed to see. The words of Lincoln and the spirit that has produced them are our sign post. Sin, by any other name, would show us that alienation is part of the human condition. But more importantly the way to not find a way not around it, but more powerfully discover the way through it!

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