The Bible documents the human struggle with sin. It begins with Cain, who was forgiven for slaying his brother, and ends with Jesus, who forgave those that placed him on the cross. In between, we have a number of object lessons in failure. Each intermediate step serves the divine purpose in preparing human nature for the manifestation of Christ, but each step hits a dead end.
Each of these stages presents sin in terms that reflected the mechanisms used to control its expression. Prior to Noah, sin was a violation of intimacy with God – a choosing to seek our own path in the world, and thus to allow external influences (the serpent or the presence “crouching at the door”) into the sacred relationship. With Moses, sin took on a legalistic tone: only a chosen few were allowed into the divine presence, and forgiveness was something bought by sacrifice. With entry to the Holy Land, the sin of placing temporal over spiritual authority led to the destruction of the nation.
By Jesus time, the existence of sin among the people had become a profit center for the priesthood. For most, redemption was out of reach. The priesthood had built a wall of shame against divine forgiveness. The mantra of that era would have been “sin sells.”
What is wrong with this picture? If the divine presence is unconditional love, then its goal upon encountering sin must be to bring healing. If we are preconditioned to believe that we are unworthy of receiving the divine presence, our free will prevents us from accepting healing. Thus Jesus died “for the forgiveness of sins.” Not forgiveness by God, who understands our frailty and always forgives us, but forgiveness of ourselves so that we may receive healing.
As humans, though, we know that when we receive power, of which healing is a form, we consider it to be part of us. If we do not forgive each other, we turn that power against those that have wronged us in the past, and perpetuate sin and so wound ourselves again. We take unconditional love and use it to create harm! So the next step is for us to forgive each other. In doing so, we allow the lessons of the past to be carried into the future. We prevent sin, not by regulating against it or creating fear of it, but by giving strength to those that have sinned so that they can heal themselves and make better choices in the future.
This is the path of Christ. This is what it means to “take up your cross and follow me.”
Are we there yet? No. It takes a lot of strength to make the choice: “Sin against me so that I may infect you with my compassion. Force your will upon me and find the divine presence of healing.” But when enough of us do, he returns, not to pass judgment, but to work his healing upon us and bring us home.