How do you feel when you hear the word “sin”?
It might surprise you, but some of my most cherished memories of church are the liturgical confession of sin.
This version in particular is very familiar to me:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against thy holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us.
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults.
Restore thou them that are penitent; according to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of thy holy name.
Each time I pray this prayer with other followers of Jesus, it feels honest, authentic, and truthful.
However, in my cultural context, I am often encouraged to avoid such negative self-talk. Rather, I am told, we need to embrace positive thinking.
The psychoanalyst Josh Cohen points out one problem with this approach:
Positive thinking always assures us that we can be more, that we can do more, that we can achieve and attain more. This is supposed to be empowering. It’s supposed to make us feel very good about our own capacities. But in fact, it sets us up against an ideal of ourselves, in the face of which we always feel inadequate, and against which we’re always falling short of.
A false idea is marketed as empowering. What’s the natural consequence? We’re demoralized and discouraged.
There are ways of talking about sin that are also harmful. But to me, it seems that telling the truth about the human condition is ultimately a gift.
In your context, what are the connotations of the word ‘sin’?
What are the problems with relentless positive thinking?
What would it look like to experience prayers of repentance as a blessing?