I recently came across an amazing talk by novelist Chimamanda Adichie. She tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.
Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories.
Not only did this challenge me about my own stereotypes and judgments of others, but also made me think about the single stories regarding myself that have been unhelpful or incomplete.
She said ‘single stories create stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.’
For years I’ve carried around a single story about Sin, which isn’t necessarily untrue but is certainly incomplete.
As someone who was born and raised in the church, the story I heard was that Sin is the central issue for humanity. Our sinful nature describes our condition and is the reason Jesus had to die, to forgive us from Sin. Whilst this story included grace and the fact God loves us despite our sin, my ego has somehow latched onto a narrative that I’m am more worthy and acceptable to God if I sin less. I’ve experienced a huge amount of shame around the fact I’m not perfect and frequently fall short of my own standards. It’s lead to huge amounts of striving to be a ‘good Christian’ and ultimately crushing disappointment as I fall short of this again and again.
The good news is that over the last decade I’ve started to come across different stories, other understandings of the human condition, of God. If you read the Bible with fresh eyes you’ll soon stumble across a whole bunch of other metaphors that describe the human condition that lead to different solutions other than forgiveness.
You can find one of them In Luke 15 where Jesus tells a series of stories about being lost and found. The sheep, the coin and the son. In each of these stories, the issue was their lostness (if that’s a word) and the solution was being found — which had nothing to do with them repenting.
Before the father hears the son’s rehearsed apology he runs to meet him with outstretched arms.
These other images of the human condition and our need for God don’t diminish the importance of sin and our need for forgiveness — our actions have consequences — but bring balance and communicate any attempt to earn God’s love is a waste of time, it’s simply not the game he’s not playing. Listen to this excellent podcast on these stories if you want to think about this more.
Chimamanda says that where we start the story matters. ‘Start the story of native American’s with arrows and not the arrival of the British and you have a very different story.’
Start the biblical story with ‘the fall’ and not with God making people in his image, good, then you end up with a distorted story. The concept of original sin isn’t the only story, millions of Christians have a different story, have a listen to this interview with Danielle Shroyer on Original Blessing.
Lastly, it could be easy to think that our theology or understanding of Sin doesn’t matter or doesn’t impact how we live. I think it matters. I’m only just uncovering for myself how damaging the single story I’ve inherited has been on my view of myself and how the implications of this impact nearly every area of my life. To be clear, I’m sure that some of my struggles with feeling unloved/unworthy are not just down to my understanding of sin, there are many more stories that have contributed to that, but I do think the sin story has been one of them.
If you’d like to do some more thinking about Sin, have a listen to this Liturgist Podcast on Sin.