It’s Not All Sin: The Problem with Over-Spiritualizing our Problems

by | Nov 6, 2023 | Faith | 92 comments

Not everything is sin

Sin isn’t the cause of all the bad or counterproductive things we do.

And blaming it on sin does harm.

When you have the wrong diagnosis, you’re going to have the wrong solution. And that can actually compound the problem.

One of the issues with Christianity over the ages is that we’ve never had a thorough understanding of the problems of the human condition.

We tend to blame everything on “sin” and lack of faith or lack of trust in God.

Yesterday my husband and I got into a conversation with someone after church about Augustine’s Confessions, and we got talking about the famous “pear” episode, from which “worm theology”, the thought that we are all helpless sinners and can do nothing else, really derived and got its start.

Augustine wrote his Confessions around 400 A.D. He was a prominent Christian scholar in what is now Algeria, and had converted to Christianity after quite a promiscuous lifestyle. He never married, but became one of the fathers of the faith, his writings very influential.

Here’s what happened wtih the pears (and I’m doing this from my memory, so I may be a little off):

Augustine and some friends climbed the fence into a neighbour’s orchard and stole pears and ate them. They did it not because they wanted to eat the pears–there were better pears in their own garden–but because they wanted to destroy the neighbours’ pears. They did it for the thrill of doing something wrong.

What this episode drove home to Augustine is that he is a a terrible sinner, since he desires to sin for sin’s own sake–not even to get the benefit of the pears, but just to wreak havoc. His base desires are sinful, and therefore humanity’s base desires are to destroy. We are fundamentally, in our nature, sinners, and we have to fight against this.

This is quite compelling, and it’s a great illustration.

But what if we look at it from another angle?

We know that adolescent males tend to gravitate to risk-seeking behaviour. There’s something about hormones combined with brain development at that time that makes teen boys do stupid things.

We also know that people crave adrenaline rushes–it’s why we skydive and bungee jump and even go on upside down roller coasters.

So what if Augustine’s and his friend’s desires to get the pears is less about an innate desire to do evil, and more about developmental risk taking that is channeled in the wrong direction, along with a desire for adrenaline rush?

Both of these things–risk taking in adolescence and desire for adrenaline rush–are part of the human condition, and are not, in and of themselves, sinful. They can be channelled in sinful ways, but they are not, in and of themselves, bad.

Another example: the desire for a relationship.

What if you really, really want to get married, but you don’t have any prospects? You’re actually quite desperate for a relationship. You feel lonely. You think about marriage all the time. You’re sad. You try to keep yourself busy and not think about it too much, but the fact is that you’re not happy single.

And you go to church and you hear that this is a form of idolatry. You are placing your desire for a spouse ahead of your desire for Jesus, and you are failing to consider Jesus enough for you. This is a lack of trust in God. You don’t think that God is enough for you. So you don’t actually love Jesus enough.

But is this true?

After all, God designed us for relationship and said that it wasn’t good for us to be alone. He made us with a desire for marriage and a sexual relationship and companionship.

And many of us have things in our pasts that make us really gravitate towards a relationship, and feel incomplete on our own. Maybe we had insecure attachment to our parents. Maybe we grew up alone, in the foster care system. Maybe we have trauma in our backgrounds and we’re desperate for love.

Does this feeling of sadness because we’re not married mean that we don’t trust God enough? Or does it mean that we have wounds that are making singleness even more painful for us than it would be for other people? Does it mean that we’re just sad that something which God designed us for doesn’t seem to be happening in our case?

Or let’s consider the idea of laziness–and not feeling motivated.

Let’s say that you have an idea of what you’re supposed to accomplish in a day, and what the people around you need from you. You need to keep the home organized and relatively clean, and everyone fed. You need to keep stuff relatively under control–organizing the calendar, figuring out any birthday parties that are coming up, figuring out gifts, figuring out doctor’s appointments. You’re supposed to be working on some courses online. You’re supposed to be exercising.

And you have no energy for anything, and at the end of the day, all you can think of is everything that you didn’t get done. You weren’t diligent. You didn’t persevere. You were just lazy. You wasted time that you will never get back. You can’t seem to get your act together, which means that you’re not trusting God enough. You’re letting your responsibilities go, so you must be a selfish person.

But what if you’re just overwhelmed? What if you’re not sleeping well? What if you haven’t had a full night’s sleep in six years because of the kids not sleeping through the night? What if you’ve got mild depression and sometimes you feel like you have no energy?

You get the picture–I could go on and on and on.

When we end up doing things we don’t want to do, or we feel things intensely that we don’t want to feel, we blame it on sin.

The human heart is wicked and deceitful and is always pulling you away from God, you know. So if you have depression that won’t lift, it’s because you’re not focusing on the joy of the Lord (not because you actually have a chemical imbalance). If you have a bad habit you can’t stop, it’s because you’re not disciplined and you’re not saying that God is enough for you (not because you learned unhelpful self-soothing techniques in your childhood and adolescence). If you have a bad relationship with your grandparents, it’s because you’re failing to love and having a bad attitude (not because you were forced into the adult role at age 10, told that you need to initiate all phone calls and communication, and it was too much to put on a child).

Not every bad thing in our lives is caused by a sinful desire.

Sometimes it’s caused by our own trauma in our background. Sometimes it’s caused by hormonal changes. Sometimes it’s caused by being put in impossible situations. Sometimes it’s just the limits of our own endurance.

But when we over-spiritualize things and call it all sin, then when we are at our weakest point, we can’t go to God for help, because God is the source of condemnation, not consolation.

Sure, He may forgive us. But if we do it again tomorrow, and again the day after that, are we still going to feel close to Jesus? Or are we going to feel like we spend our lives disappointing Him, trying to figure out how we can make it up to Him? Are we going to feel like what He asks of us is just too much?

 

What if part of the point of the Incarnation is that Jesus understands?

The Incarnation has so many purposes, and we tend to focus on only one: He came to be the perfect sacrifice.

But what if it’s more than that?

  • What if it’s that He came to show us what God is like?
  • What if it’s that He came to show us how to be fully human?
  • What if He came to show us that He understands our hormonal changes; our grief; our exhaustion; our disappointments; our longing for something else?

How would that understanding of Jesus change our faith?

What if we could approach so many of our issues not as sin issues and attach shame to them, but instead as part of the human condition? We all have baggage from childhood, and some of us have truckloads that is much heavier than others. That doesn’t mean you’re more sinful; it means that you have much to bear, and Jesus sees that and knows what that looks like. If some of us have harder times with motivation and with mental health, it doesn’t mean that we’re more sinful; it means that we’re more prone to these issues, and Jesus understands.

I think Augustine was wrong about the pears.

I think that he had an adolescent desire for an adrenaline rush, and it was channelled in the wrong direction. But that desire for an adrenaline rush was not, in and of itself, bad.

Being human isn’t a sin. Dealing with the frailties of the human condition does not mean that we are sinning. 

Yes, sin is real. But not everything bad or uncomfortable has our own sin as its root.

What if we could focus on Jesus as the Healer rather than just Jesus as the Saviour? What if we could focus on Jesus as the Friend and not just Jesus as the Forgiver?

What if we could have more compassion upon ourselves?

I’m looking ahead and planning the podcasts up until Christmas break, and I think this theme is going to keep coming up, again and again. What if we can see trauma more clearly? How do we find true wholeness? How can we put aside shame and embrace freedom and love?

I hope the church can get there, because there have been far too heavy burdens put on people’s backs, as we’ve blamed ourselves basically for being human.

Not everything is sin

What do you think? Has this idea that everything bad is because you’re sinning hurt you and your relationship with God? Hurt you and your healing? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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92 Comments

  1. Cynthia Bretz

    Wow, this is so timely for me…we have hit a rough spot financially, not our fault, just a perfect storm of events. And I have been reliving the terror of growing up in a home that was often not financially stable, and marrying a man who had 14 jobs in 29 years, so our financial situation was always chaotic. It was so drilled into me that if I wasn’t giving to the church faithfully, the result would be financial difficulty for my family. Even when we were on government assistance for groceries, we were still tithing 10% of our gross income before taxes—and I always blamed myself for not being able to make ends meet. We nearly lost our house twice. I remember praying and asking God what we were doing wrong, that He wasn’t blessing us. Now, I find it difficult to ask God to help, because I have heard so often that if I got myself into a mess, I should get myself out—and I don’t feel worthy of asking Him for anything.

    Reply
    • JG

      I completely understand about the financial struggles. My husband and I are also dealing with a similar situation. We are trying to come up with a solution, but fixing our finances will take time. I also have felt condemned for not tithing. My dad has clearly said that God will withdraw his blessings if we don’t tithe. I don’t think he knows just how deeply he has wounded us by what he said. We have also decided not to tell him the extent of our financial struggles since he will pass out unwanted and unnecessary advice, not to mention a boatload of contention.

      Reply
      • Lynn

        I’m so sorry you have to deal with this! I once pointed out to someone that when I tithe on my $30k salary, I then have $27,000 left to live on. When you tithe on your $60k salary, you have $54,000 left to live on. There is a huge difference, and it is 100% legit for a person to say they cannot afford to tithe.

        Reply
  2. Joelle

    Beautiful. I think this understanding of being human and God with us in the midst of our humanity would have helped me be a better parent to my older kids than the “break the will,” “born sinful,” and “the heart is deceitful wicked,” and power and control teachings so prevalent in the Christian parenting books. They talked about grace, and “shepherding,” but with large doses of shaming language doled out on the child. It was pressure to demand obedience and modify behavior while calling it reaching their heart. It produced shame and rebellion, not connection.

    My better understanding of human development and who God really is has transformed my parenting of my youngest, but the damage to the relationship with my older kids is done.

    Reply
    • A

      “It produced shame and rebellion, not connection.” Isn’t that the truth!
      I can relate to what you write. You may have damaged you relationship with your older kids, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t reparable. I think there is a lot of healing and reconciliation that can occur if when we have harmed others (even if we thought we were doing right) if we can can talk about our change of perspective and why along with offering a heart felt apology. I have told my kids that I am sorry for the way I disciplined them, and that I would do it differently if I could do it over. I have told them I understand if they are hurt, angry, feel like they can’t trust me, and that I don’t expect anything. I think our kids are looking for self-reflection, honesty, and authenticity from us. That can go a long way to repair—even if it takes time.

      Reply
      • Phoebe

        Wow, as someone who has been estranged from my mother for two years, it is so encouraging to read these comments and know there are moms out there who have true remorse and want to make it right with their adult children. Instead of telling them you did the best you could and they are too sensitive 🙃

        Reply
  3. R

    I’m not convinced that Augustine was wrong, per se. I think Scripture is clear that the first Adam gave us a sinful nature from birth, and the last Adam (Jesus) redeemed his people from that nature. Yes, Augustine could have had a developmentally appropriate drive for an adrenaline rush, but that drive could have some of its roots in our sinful nature. I think the more important point is that JESUS SAVES! Even if our sinful nature is to blame for some of our struggles, the Lord has compassion for his people, not condemnation. He loves us. He cleanses us in Christ. He is not just barely tolerating us; he is rejoicing over us with singing (Zeph. 3).
    Neither the man born blind nor his parents sinned. There are definitely struggles that don’t involve sin. When there’s a moral component, it is possible that our sin at least somewhat influences or complicates the struggle, though not always. But the thing that worm theology gets most wrong is the shame/blame game. God loves us now. The victory is already won, we are already redeemed in Christ, and he’s at work in us by the Spirit. We have great hope.

    Reply
  4. Lisa Johns

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! Jesus loves us, and so He came and rescued us from sin! It’s not the other way around!!

    And learning to not assign everything in my life as a result of my sin has been a big part of my healing in the last few years. It’s a hard habit to break!

    Reply
  5. Viva

    And what if the whole point of Jesus is to demonstrate Love.
    He proved that it is possible, as humans, to Love with our entire beings (heart, soul, mind, strength), and to do it completely.
    We no longer have the excuse of it not being possible to Love holistically because we are sinners.
    Jesus put that lie to death with all the other lies and death itself.

    Reply
  6. Michelle

    Sheila, thank you. Over the last few months I have had growing concern specifically about the affect that Augustine has had on western theology. Just this morning, I have been looking more into this very subject. I appreciate your words here being part of the Lord confirming what I am sensing.

    Reply
  7. Lee Jones

    Hiya, great article! . . . let me offer some constructively critical thoughts. lets have a look at the definition of Sin, sin is “anything that we do whether it be a thought word or deed that isn’t consistent with the character and nature of God”, the Bible teaches that before being born again we have absolutely no choice but to think act or speak in a sinful way, which is the definition of being “in sin”, however when a person comes to true saving faith and is born again they now have two bases of operations operating at the same time within the believer, this is what Paul talks about when he mentions the “old man” and the “newborn human spirit”, also, when we look at the composition of Man, to act spiritually is to act physically and vice versa, the body and the spirit are intricately connected and iner-react upon each other in a way that we don’t understand. maybe the physical adrenaline Rush that you mentioned started off as a spiritual Desire for scene but also manifested as a physical Impulse? and yes the question begs where does the sin nature reside, is it physical spiritual or Both? I completely agree that Christians in general need to stop with the finger pointing and the condemning, fruit inspecting and assessing people in a spiritual manner, because we just not qualified enough to do that, we don’t see what god sees, he’s ways onto our ways and vice versa, all we can judge by is what we see with our eyes and here without ears, at 9 times out 10 we get it terribly wrong, maybe love compassion and understanding should be the first point of call? rather than assuming the position of a judge in order to condemn . . . . .

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear you, but the problem with what you’re saying is insinuating that those who don’t know Christ are automatically acting in a sinful way. But there are lots and lots of people who don’t know Christ who sacrificially love others and give what they can to help others, even sacrificing their very lives. Paul talks about such people in Romans 2. People who don’t know Christ can still act consistent with the character of God. You can likely think of lots of examples in your own life!

      Reply
      • Cynthia

        THANK YOU!

        Reply
  8. Constant thoughts

    I was thinking about some of this earlier. Maybe not quite in terms of being worms who are sinful but more in terms of our bodies being complex machines which run on various chemicals and electrical pulses. God made us very complex. And each machine has minor variations in the chemistry and electrical pulses. These multiple, minor variations in the many complex systems of the body produce the actual quirks which make us unique humans… mathematical minds, poetic minds, artists… These are the quirks which make us interesting. These combinations of variations also produce negative effects… depression, illness, learning disabilities, birth defects…

    We are actually so complex that I often find it amazing that our bodies don’t have more dysfunctions. That is not to say that God has faults. It is to say that God created a very complex world with complex beings with many variations… because that is part of the beauty. And as we go through life we grow and change and our bodies change… we age, women go through significant hormonal (chemical) changes, our parts get worn out… also part of the beauty. Invariably, the complexity and variation will present challenges… great and small at times. As humans, perhaps we want to determine a desired “average” behaviour and to judge everyone by that desired behaviour. The “average” doesn’t exist. So, some may want to call any deviation from average a sin. And, since the average does not exist, we are all sinful. When, really, it’s perfectly logical variation based on the design. We are all meant to be unique. Of course, that doesn’t excuse evil or cruelty. But, as humans, we desire experiences and to try new things, and we approach life in unique ways… and some need adrenaline.

    I am an engineer by education. I am always fascinated by the complexity of the world and how it all works together. The idea that we are all sinful worms detracts from the beauty of the complex world full of complex systems and complex machines, complex beings and complex humans. Sometimes I wonder if we are the experiments of a great and inventive engineer who revels in his creations. None are mistakes. All are magnificent. All are lessons. All are beautiful.

    I may have gone on a philosophical tangent there. This was a bit of a thought dump. I am frustrated with the people who make gross generalizations of “this is how it works”, “this is how it should be, from my perspective”, “there can be no variation from this truth”.

    Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      I loved your tangent. Tangent away!

      Reply
      • Constant thoughts

        Thank you. I spend a lot of time thinking about how everything fits together. And wondering how to live a better life. I am a person who strays from the average… neurodivergent perhaps. And I often find the whole of it is very complex and fascinating. It can be hard to fathom it all. And I often wonder where I fit.

        Reply
    • Constant thoughts

      I am not saying that we don’t sin. I am saying that the assumption that we are all born as sinful worms is a bad generalization. And the idea that a baby must follow a set routine and learn to settle itself is a generalization. The idea that a baby which cries is trying to manipulate an adult (sin) is a generalization as well as an insane idea. The idea that you have to break the will of a child because they are born sinners is crazy. And it gives us a crazy view that God, our heavenly parent, must want to break us, too, for we deserve nothing better.

      As a parent, my instincts told me to hold and comfort my children. I cannot see my Heavenly Father as an abusive parent who would not hold and comfort his children. It just doesn’t make any sense. It is not how He created us to be. I can’t believe He wants to break us. I do believe He will guide us, lovingly.

      Reply
      • Thinker

        I feel like I”m agreeing with what you said. My problem is with the theology that says that an individual person is inherently evil continually all the time (CAlvinism) or “in sin my mother conceived me” therefore everyone is a sinner all the time (Lutheranism). While I agree that I probably sin more than I realize, I also know as much as I can know myself, that I deliberately try to avoid things that I know are sinful. I feel the “inherently evil continually all the time” explained a specific cohort in the early days of creation, and “in sin my mother conceived me” in psalm 51 is David speaking how he feels when he felt the guilt of falling into temptation with Bathsheba and Uriah and that whole thing. I can even allow that someone outside of grace does not please God when he does good works but it’s not for me to say because I”m not God. But I can’t really accept that all of us were completely sinful from conception and always wrong. These are off the cuff remarks and I hope they help someone.

        Reply
  9. Viva

    Yes, Michelle!
    Same here! Why do we laud these men, from Augustine to Piper, and even Lewis (I know he’s sacred, but do a little digging…).
    Just this morning, I was letting my serious doubts about Tim Keller rise up in my mind.
    These men are used to support and prove the hierarchical proof texts which perpetuate oppression.
    If we’re going to have conversations about these things, it’s fine to include these fallible men, and we should at the same time examine all of their beliefs and evidence of their character instead of holding their views up as authoritative.
    Especially when the logical outcome of their beliefs, if practiced, is oppression of the vulnerable.
    Jesus came because of love and he demonstrated love by actively freeing people from all kinds of dis-ease.
    Is there any sound theology beyond the knowledge of God’s character of steadfast love and faithfulness?

    Reply
  10. Angharad

    I don’t think the problem is so much a misunderstanding of sin as a misunderstanding of God’s grace and forgiveness. And I don’t think the solution is to try and water down what sin is – it’s to tell people how amazing that grace and forgiveness is.

    If I steal my neighbour’s pears, it doesn’t matter if I do it because I want to eat the pears or because I want an adrenaline rush – it’s still theft and it’s still sin. But when I bring that sin to God, he doesn’t condemn, He FORGIVES.

    Think of the parable of the lost son. His behaviour was appalling. But when he returned to his father, prepared to abase himself and become a slave in his father’s household (which is how a lot of us feel we have to approach God when we have gone astray), what does the Father do? He’s ALREADY watching out for his son’s return, and when he sees him ‘a long way off’, he doesn’t sit there coming up with condemnatory phrases to hurl at him – no, he RUNS to welcome his son home…

    In that culture, for a man in his position to run was shocking and undignified. Yet his love for his erring son was so great, that he couldn’t wait a minute more to welcome him home. THAT is how God welcomes us when we bring our sins to Him – if we can truly grasp the depths of that love, I don’t think we’ll be worrying any more about which of our actions are sinful and which aren’t – we’ll just be spreading it all out before God, confident that He loves us far more than we can ever imagine and that He can deal with it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, Angharad, I totally agree that the stealing of the pears was still sin, but I think the point that Augustine was making is that the reason he did it was for the thrill of sin–whereas it’s more likely that it was the adrenaline rush and the thrill of risk taking behaviour among adolescent males. Yes, it’s still sin, but the fact that he found it thrilling wasn’t in and of itself proof that we are all worms, but rather more accurately points to a facet of the human condition that’s involved in risk taking.

      And, yes, I agree about God’s love and forgiveness. I just think sometimes we apply it in places where it’s not actually love and forgiveness that we need but rather understanding and compassion? If that makes sense?

      Reply
    • Nessie

      Angharad- I love how you describe the Father’s great love. Anticipatory, proactive, excited… these are things I am trying to un- and relearn correctly about God after false, abusive teachings. How you explained it really struck me so thank you.
      ——-

      I think it can be difficult to discern if there was intentional sin, or if it was simply youthfulness gone awry… but I also struggle to believe that a baby has sinfulness which I feel this Augustine line of thinking can be taken.

      I have mixed feelings about such characters as the legend of Robin Hood- he stole, which is sin, but he gave it to the poor who, essentially, had had it taken unrightfully from them. So… was he being good despite his sinning? Or was he being sinful despite his good deeds? Was his motivation wholly to help, or did he derive some pleasure in throwing it back in the sheriff/prince’s faces? I boil things down to this verse usually, as I know I don’t have the power nor skill to know.

      Hebrews 4: 12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

      Reply
      • Angharad

        Nessie, I think the confusion arises because there is a difference between our nature and our actions. A baby is ‘born sinful’ in the sense that it inherits our first parents’ fallen nature – so the capacity to sin is already there. But it isn’t ‘born sinful’ in the sense that it is actively sinning! But the reality is that every single person who has ever or will ever be born is going to sin. It’s why Jesus had to come – if there were a possibility we could manage to live sinless lives by our own efforts, he wouldn’t have had to.

        There’s also a difference between human law and God’s law. Disobeying God is always sinful. Disobeying people may be sinful or not, depending on what we are doing. For example, in many countries it is illegal to be a Christian or even own a Bible. Obviously, breaking these laws is not sinful!!! But breaking a law that doesn’t conflict with God’s word would be.

        As for mixed motives, sometimes, it’s so easy for us to get tied up in theological knots – “I stole from the rich, which was wrong, but I gave to the poor which was right?” or “me feeling tired is due to my health issues, so that’s probably not sin, but when I snapped at my husband because of my tiredness, that probably was sin…” Maybe we just need to pour it all out to the God who loves us more than we can ever know. He knows just what we need. There are loads of examples in the Bible of God rebuking His people when they do wrong – but when Elijah runs away from Jezebel and gives way to despair, instead of being told off for not being more trusting, God sends an angel with a meal for him to eat! Sometimes, we need to be told we’re doing wrong and need to change, sometimes we need reassurance and encouragement – and sometimes, we just need a snack and a nap! I’m so thankful we follow a God who knows which one we need right now!

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          The Elijah story in 1 kings 19 is one of my favourites. I just love how gracious God is, but I also love reading how Elijah has such a huge low after such a huge high (God vindicating him in front of all of the false prophets with fire on the altar). I mean, that’s a serious miracle, yet almost immediately he’s like, “it would just be better if I were dead.” That’s just so real and so human and we see God’s grace in it.

          Reply
      • A

        These are great questions! The Robin Hood story, I think, actually highlights how unproductive it is to always be searching for sin in ourselves and in others. I think about the examples in Scripture when people did things that would technically be against the law, yet God honored and blessed them. The Hebrew midwives deceived the Egyptians, Abigail was not submissive to her husband subverted his plans, Tamar prostituted herself in order to get justice from Judah, Rahab lied and hid the spies. Funnily enough, all of these examples are women. Even Jesus healed on the Sabbath and was condemned for it. God looks at the heart. Again and and again he tells his people that he doesn’t care about their rituals and sacrifices when they neglect to do justice, mercy, and act with humility.

        The important thing to know that if we are unsure if ours or another’s actions are sinful, if we belong to Christ, we are covered in his righteousness. Our sin has been put to death.

        Reply
        • Angharad

          And we can also ask for wisdom if we are not sure of the right action! James promises that it will be given to anyone who ‘asks in faith’ for it.

          Have you read Corrie ten Boom’s ‘The Hiding Place’? Corrie lied more than once to save people from being caught and killed by the Nazis. Yet her niece, when asked where someone was hiding, spoke the truth and the people still escaped. Corrie got very defensive about this, but her father responded so wisely, by pointing out that both she and her niece had acted in the way they believed was right.

          Reply
          • A

            Absolutely! I love the Hiding Place. Corrie’s actions are another great example of not everything being super black and white all the time.

    • Dee

      Augustine should be given credit for knowing his own heart better than strangers separated by millennia, and being reflective of his own sin.

      The point about seeking an adrenaline rush as a young male is well made. Yet the fact that getting that rush was more important than considering the harm they were causing others was self centered and sinful.

      I do believe he was honest about his not just seeking excitement, but seeking excitement that comes from specifically doing something wrong and harmful.

      Young men of his class had plenty of athletic outlets that would have given them the rush but not the excitement of transgression.

      Augustine realized exactly what gave him the thrill.

      Reply
  11. Jessica Madden

    Literally cried through this whole article. Thank you ♥️

    Reply
  12. Angela

    Right on Sheila. I had already independently come to the conclusion that we make up tons of imaginary sins and then feel weighed down under the burden of them. While we ignore the most important and REAL kinds of sins…like abuse, abuse cover-ups, and other genuine harm toward others. I’m so glad you are talking about this, and hopefully in future articles you will drive home that the sin we should be worried about is the kind that causes verifiable harm to others.

    Also I can’t stand it anymore when perfectly sweet godly people have been trained to assume, and even talk about, how they must be sinning 200 times a day “without knowing it.” So we all just continue to be genuinely horrible people until we die. As if Jesus does nothing to transform us. Spiritual maturity and real evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in your life don’t matter–you are still just a vile worm.

    First off, Jesus already took care af all accidental sin, we don’t need to go digging for it. Holy Spirit will point it out if it’s important, and He is gentle and patient. Or your family will, lol!

    Second, we all need to stop minimizing the real sins that hurt others, and have a value for restitution and reconciliation. I really think it’s a satanic trap for us to be obsessing over imaginary sin so we are too depressed or jaded to deal with the blatant sin of things like verbal abuse, spiritual abuse, domination and control, etc.

    Reply
    • Nessie

      “Or your family will, lol!”
      Lol, oh boy, that hits home! 🤣

      Love your point about the imaginary (or maybe sometimes lesser?) sins being a distraction from far larger sins!

      Reply
      • Jo R

        You mean a distraction kinda like this:

        “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These things should have been done without neglecting the others.”

        Reply
        • Nessie

          Right? Definitely could have used a bit more of Micah 6:8.
          He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
          And what does the Lord require of you?
          To act justly and to love mercy
          and to walk humbly with your God.

          Reply
    • Natasha

      This!
      I can’t stand the “unknown sin” and it’s cousin “disrespecting your husband without realizing it.”

      When we sin, the Holy Spirit convicts us. It is a big part of his job. When God is correcting you, you know why. When we have that vague shame feeling, it is not from God.

      Reply
  13. Stefanie

    Just yesterday, the sermon at church was about God’s judgement. And how justice requires judgement. (and I understand that there are real atrocities and injustices in this world that need to be righted) But the whole emphasis on judgement and Justice was really triggering to me. And I was thinking about myself and then projecting on to other people, that more than judgement, I need healing. So much of my “sin” is actually trauma responses. I have so much cPTSD from childhood and religious trauma that it affects all my relationships and my parenting. I’m not the person I want to be, and I’m not the person I would be if I weren’t dealing with the after effects of years of trauma. And I don’t need God’s judgment or justice. I need healing.

    Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      ❤️❤️❤️

      Reply
    • Greta

      —> “And I don’t need Gods judgment or justice. I need healing”.

      I do hope you obtain the healing you seek. But this statement encapsulates the American church today. It describes a version of spiritual belief where one picks which parts of the biblical Yahweh they want to take and which they want to avoid.

      I believe that Christianity involves taking on and accepting all of our lord and savior Jesus Christ and believing all of scripture, not just certain parts of it that strike me as acceptable depending on my life situation.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Greta, you’re insinuating that Stephanie is not accepting the Bible. The fact is that right now what she needs is healing, not judgment, and Jesus actually says that He did not come into the world to judge the world, but that the world through Him may be saved.

        You seem to be equating your interpretation of Scripture with Scripture itself, and then assuming that other people aren’t following God.

        That fact is that many times in our lives we need healing, not judgment, and when you look at the life of Christ, he spent an awful lot of it healing without condemning people.

        Knowing that you are broken and need healing right now is actually quite in line with the Bible.

        Reply
    • Nessie

      Stefanie- I think it can be so hard to go through the healing process (especially with cPTSD!) to reach the point of being healthy enough to know if the judgment we are getting is actually conviction from God via the Holy Spirit, or judgment from other people. When we need time to heal and relearn new and better ways, people prioritizing judgment, pointing out our flaws ,and offering little to no grace can be part of why some PTSD becomes cPTSD, and that sure delays and complicates the healing process.

      Prayers for your continued journey into healing.

      Reply
    • Angharad

      Justice and judgement is only one side of the coin!!! They shouldn’t be talking about judgement if they’re not also talking about mercy – to do so is to completely ignore what Jesus has done for us.

      I like the illustration of the Judge whose own son was brought before him. As a just judge, he had no option but to fine his son. But as a loving father, he then paid the fine.

      Reply
  14. NM

    Thank you for bringing this up. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since leaving our Reformed church. Looking at the original Hebrew word for sin, it simply means “to miss the mark.” There’s nothing about willfulness in that definition. Has our definition of the word sin taken on a meaning it was never meant to have? Missing the mark just sounds like brokenness to me, the pain that comes with being human.

    I distinctly remember sitting on church when I was about 12 years old. I had very loving parents and a good relationship with God when I was little. I believed He adored me. But this pastor was explaining penal substitutionary atonement – that we were so sinful, and that sin was so bad, that we deserved all of the beating and pain and suffering that Jesus endured on the cross. This was very disturbing to me. Of course I wasn’t perfect, but I was a very sweet and obedient little girl. Did I deserve to be tortured and killed for that time I didn’t do the dishes right away? It caused a lot of cognitive dissonance because I didn’t feel like I deserved that punishment. But if that’s how the gospel worked, it must be true, so I was actively trying to find the things in myself that were so awful to deserve that. Whenever I caught myself thinking I was a decent person, well that was just an example of my pride which was the worst sin of all.

    I just recently learned that there are other theories of atonement – and penal substitutionary is actually a newer one! Christus Victor is the classic theory, that Jesus came to sacrifice Himself to declare victory over evil, sin, and death and to restore creation. It is so much more hopeful to me. Within that framework, Jesus came to rescue me from the evil that had been done TO me, from the pain of living in this broken world. (And of course the hurt I have caused as well.) It may seem like a subtle difference, but it has been life changing for me. Jesus’ death no longer makes me feel plagued with guilt. Instead, it makes me profoundly grateful and hopeful for the new life He came to give us.

    On a practical level, this shift in thinking has made me feel much more loving towards others. If we are to love others as we love ourselves, how is that going to look if we believe we are evil? Seeing the people around me as good image bearers who have been harmed by living on this broken planet has made it so much easier to love them.

    Reply
    • CMT

      “ It caused a lot of cognitive dissonance because I didn’t feel like I deserved that punishment. But if that’s how the gospel worked, it must be true, so I was actively trying to find the things in myself that were so awful to deserve that. Whenever I caught myself thinking I was a decent person, well that was just an example of my pride which was the worst sin of all.”

      This.

      IMO, this theology is a recipe for shame and scrupulosity, especially for kids. Ask me how I know!

      Reply
    • Angharad

      That’s just such a messed up view of Christ’s death on the cross anyway – it always bugs me when sermons go into huge detail on the physical suffering because Christ’s physical sufferings on the cross were not unique. Crucifixion was the Romans pet method of execution – THOUSANDS of people died that way. Jesus actually died very quickly compared to some victims.

      What made the cross so terrible for Jesus was that he carried our sin for us. I don’t think we can ever get our heads around that because we don’t know what it’s like to be sinless. But He endured a temporary separation from Father God, so that we don’t have to endure permanent separation. Would anyone who loved us THAT MUCH really want us to spend our lives feeling crushed by guilt? That would just ruin the whole point of Jesus’ death – so that we could be reconciled to God and live life in all its fullness!

      Reply
  15. Boone

    I don’t know if sin has that much to do with it. I’ve found that most bad stuff that happens to people is the result of their, or somebody that effects them’s, poor choices.

    Reply
    • Greta

      Agreed, Boone. The concept of personal choice and accountability (adulting, some would call it) seems to be vanishing in our society. Always seems to be blaming the past, how they were raised, personality profile tests etc instead of owning choices and repenting.

      Reply
      • Jo R

        Must be nice to have never experienced an abusive childhood or church, which needs healing, not repentance.

        Reply
        • Learning to be beloved

          Jo R, I’m a huge fan of you! I love reading your perspective. It’s been so healing for me. You make me feel seen, valued, worthy of decency and love. This blog is one of the things that is literally saving my life as I get out of my abusive 20 year marriage. Your words are consistently a healing balm, validating my unseen wounds, correcting the hate that has been directly at me by someone who promised to love me.

          You make me not alone.

          I can’t appreciate you and your impact enough.

          Sheila, Rebecca, Joanna & team, you all are amazing in your love for others!

          Reply
  16. JoB

    This post is a summary of pretty much everything I’ve been wrestling with spiritually over the last couple of years. I hate to say it, I wish I could believe it, but at this point I simply can’t.

    I won’t get into my thoughts right now, but I would be curious to hear your (collective) thoughts: is there a possibility that the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is actually incorrect? Or is it correct, but have certain parts of it been overemphasized to the point of distorting it? For those who believe it is correct, is this a salvation issue, or a secondary issue?

    Reply
    • Viva

      I’m not a theologian and the phrase “penal substitutionary atonement” turns my stomach and I feel violated at the same time.
      I know this: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
      And, reading the gospels, especially John, and focusing on Jesus’ words and actions has been transformational. Especially reading John 3:16 and 17 as a whole statement’.

      Reply
      • Kate

        There are a lot of other atonement theories that are far older in Christian history than Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA). PSA is only as old as the Reformation (500 years). I think PSA has done a lot more harm than good to the church and I have been happy to let it go. I personally love the older atonement theories that have been around a lot longer like Christus Victor. I am sometimes shocked that PSA is pushed so heavily in many churches as the only atonement theory when it is relatively young in Christian history. I wish I had known about the many atonement theories growing up in the church. It really puts things in perspective. I think PSA makes it easier to control people and that is why it is pushed as the only atonement theory in some church spaces. This is information control in my opinion (which is a cult-like behavior). It is one thing to say that PSA is one of many atonement theories and ague for why a church would follow it above all others – it is another thing to pretend it is the only atonement theory and pretend that it is the only true Christian belief. Some churches are very manipulative.

        Reply
        • sunnynorth

          It revolutionized my faith and relationship with Jesus when I learned there were other atonement theories – I have never heard anything else referenced in the nondenominational evangelical churches I’ve attended. I’ve honestly been furious that not one person ever told me about other views of the atonement: no one in church, Bible studies, small groups, or any of the Christian content I consumed over my life.

          Reply
      • Lanny

        So often you manage to put into words those things I can’t voice. My husband and I are currently at a stalemate – he views my actions as unbiblical, full of anger & unforgiveness. Constantly judging my fruits. He refuses to consider that his actions have caused hurt and mistrust. He simply expects that if I am forgiving as God intended those things (along with our problems) disappear. No need to work through the human-ness and consequences that have been created, it is now all MY fault for not being Godly enough. It’s so difficult to stay in a healthy mindset when I know I am not being sinful in an area, but my husband keeps insisting I am. There was a point in our past where I believed him. And it was awful. But God has set me free from those beliefs. Now praying for the strength to believe my husband is capable of change.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, Lanny, I’m sorry. Are you seeing a therapist at all to help you through this? That sounds really tough.

          Reply
          • Lanny

            Yes, I am. And I have a beautiful group of women supporting me praying for me and my husband both.

            Thankfully the church we attend is supportive as well, although my husband would prefer to go elsewhere.

            I want my relationship with God to be beautiful, personal, and vibrant. And then I want to reflect those same things to others. Removing unnecessary condemnation and judgement is a great step forward.

        • Jo R

          “Forgiveness” is not a synonym for “reconciliation” or for “lack of consequences.”

          Reply
          • Lanny

            In his mind they are exactly the same.

          • Jane King

            Amen Jo R!

    • Angharad

      I’m not a fan of phrases like ‘penal substitutionary atonement’ – it’s so easy to get hung up on arguing over different lengthy theological phrases that we end up spending more time on them than on the Bible. I went to a Reformed church in my younger days, and I remember once that our young adults Bible study spent two months looking at ‘The Five Points of Calvinism’. I don’t think we opened our Bibles once… When we start spending more time on man-made theories on how to interpret the Bible, rather than on the Bible itself, we have a problem.

      Having said that, I don’t think we can avoid the substance behind the fancy phrasing. Throughout the Bible, it’s clear that sin results in separation from God and that a price has to be paid to deal with that sin. That’s why there were all the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. But they couldn’t last. Which is why Jesus came as the once-and-for-all perfect sacrifice – I love that moment where the curtain of the Temple was torn in two when He died – such a perfect symbol of the fact that Jesus had opened the way for us to have a direct relationship with God once again.

      Reply
      • JoB

        Yes, I am absolutely interested more in the substance of the idea of atonement rather than terminology.

        I appreciate hearing your thoughts. I personally think you are correct in your reading of the Bible and the theme of a need for a sacrifice. Unfortunately, I am one who cannot find a sense of personal love, at least directed towards me, in the concept. I wish I could, because I see more evidence for the idea of atonement (in the miracle of the resurrection) than I do for personal healing and/or true sanctification, which I struggle with believing actually occurs, based on both personal experience and reading history, including the Bible. The idea of healing seems to embody a much more personal love, attention and caring that one can feel in this life, now.

        Reply
        • Angharad

          Dear JoB, I wish I had the solution for you, but I will pray that Jesus helps you find that sense of personal love. Because there is nothing more personally loving than His death on the cross. I know John 3:16 talks about God loving the WORLD, but it goes on to say that ‘anyONE who believes’… If you had been the only person who would ever accept Him, Jesus would still have come.

          A few years ago, I realised that while I had accepted God’s love for me with my head, I hadn’t really grasped it at ‘heart level’. I found the words of this song helpful in understanding a little more of how God loved ME, not just ‘the world’. No idea if it will be helpful to you, but just in case –

          Before the world began, you were on His mind
          And every tear you cry is precious in His eyes
          Because of His great love, He gave His only Son
          And everything was done, so you would come

          Nothing you can do could make Him love you more
          And nothing that you’ve done could make Him close the door
          Because of His great love, He gave His only Son
          Everything was done, so you could come

          Come to the Father though your gift is small
          Broken hearts, broken lives
          He will take them all
          The power of His Word, the power of His blood
          Everything was done so you would come

          Reply
          • JoB

            I’m late to say this, Angharad, but thank you for your prayers and encouragement. I’m not giving up yet. 🙂

    • Lisa Johns

      Personally, I think it is incorrect. It goes right into worm theology, in which we were all such horrible awful beings that we deserved all the beatings and torture that Jesus endured, just because we didn’t wash the dishes one night when we were children, or became we have trauma responses to situations cure. As a previous commenter said, we need healing, not punishment. Jesus came for our healing, not to heap more condemnation on us.

      Reply
      • Lisa Johns

        *because we have trauma…

        Reply
    • TS

      Hi Jo,

      Atonement theology is such a dense and interesting subject. And like many I grew up with a largely penal substitution model of faith.

      I think the Bible Project does an excellent dive into Atonement. Here are a few, but there are plenty more:

      1. https://bibleproject.com/podcast/what-atonement/
      2. https://bibleproject.com/explore/video/sacrifice-and-atonement/
      3. https://bibleproject.com/podcast/language-faith-part-4-atonement/
      4. https://bibleproject.com/articles/old-rituals-new-realities/

      Also, Dr. Laura Robinson, who’s been featured on Bare Marriage, does a lengthy dive into justification and atonement on her substack over three articles

      1. https://laurarbnsn.substack.com/p/religious-scrupulosity-religious?utm_source=activity_item
      2. https://laurarbnsn.substack.com/p/saved-by-faith-alone-terms-and-conditions
      3. https://laurarbnsn.substack.com/p/the-good-news

      Reply
  17. CMT

    Augustine is a great example for this conversation. He has been so influential in the way Western Christianity thinks of sin and human nature, yet, as you point out, his understanding of both was not the most balanced. And, he is not the only one. There are quite a few revered figures in church history (Luther is another who comes to mind) who seem to have struggled with profound self-loathing and shame. Not that that invalidates what they have to say; it just means they were human. But sometimes we treat these thinkers’ tendency to self-flagellate as evidence of great holiness, which is not wise. Nor is uncritical acceptance of theologies built on that foundation. We don’t have to view ourselves as supremely horrible to understand God as supremely good.

    Reply
    • Nessie

      I wonder if our tendency to look to others’ thoughts and works (teachings, writings, etc.) has had a snowball effect? Having a slight bit of “offness” in one’s theology can increasingly wedge us away from God’s message as we begin to rely on their thoughts more than the Spirit to know God better. I’m not trying to say that others’ teachings are all bad, but teaching that is a little off in one “generation” can grow increasingly off with each successive one. Definitely a case for increasing our discernment where we can.

      Reply
      • Angharad

        I think that’s a really good point – as humans, we do seem to have a tendency to extremism, and it’s easy to go way too far down one track. I recently read a book about the 1904 revival, and while it’s obvious that there was a real move of the Holy Spirit, I do have questions about some of the excesses – people would cry and scream on the floor for hours at a time, begging for salvation, while others gathered round them ‘wrestling in prayer’ until they ‘came through’ and were ‘wonderfully saved’. When I read the Bible, I don’t read about people spending 6 or 7 hours screaming – I just read about people simply following Jesus’ call. I wonder if perhaps one or two people really struggled to believe that God could love and forgive them, and maybe spent a lot of time weeping with despair because of it, so that people gathered round praying for them to be able to grasp the truth – and instead of that grief being regarded as personal to the way God dealt with them, it gradually turned into a ‘sign’ of salvation and you weren’t truly saved unless you’d experienced it. And many of the old ‘worm’ hymns, while acknowledging our sinfulness and desperate need of a Saviour, overlook the fact that we are God’s creation and made in His image!

        In most of the churches I come across today, I think we’ve gone too far the other way. “God loves us” has been gradually transformed into “God loves us so therefore we can do whatever we like because God wants us to be happy.” I’ve even heard someone justify having an affair with a married man on the basis that “God doesn’t condemn us and He wants us to be happy and this makes me happy so it must be ok.” And I do cringe at some teaching about how God loves us and is ‘for’ us, but which completely overlooks the need for repentance and forgiveness!

        We need to keep comparing Scripture with Scripture – the Bible says that Jesus came so that we could have life in all its fullness, but it also says we need to take up our cross and follow Him! Focussing too much on any one part of the Bible is going to result in imbalance. That’s why it’s so important to read the Bible in community as well as alone (as the Scriptures would have been read communally in the temple) and also, I think, to mix with believers from different church backgrounds. If you only ever spend time with Christians in your church (or in your denomination if it quite a narrow one) then it’s easy to end up thinking that your way of thinking is the only right way. I find it really refreshing to listen to Christians from other church backgrounds – even if I don’t agree with what they say, it’s a good way of challenging my beliefs, but more often, I’m reminded that there are many different, equally valid ways of worshipping and following Jesus.

        Reply
        • Greta

          —> “ In most of the churches I come across today, I think we’ve gone too far the other way. “God loves us” has been gradually transformed into “God loves us so therefore we can do whatever we like because God wants us to be happy.”

          —>” God doesn’t condemn us and He wants us to be happy and this makes me happy so it must be ok.” And I do cringe at some teaching about how God loves us and is ‘for’ us, but which completely overlooks the need for repentance and forgiveness!”

          You nailed it with both of these points Angharad. The same points I was making but Sheila criticized me for.

          But thank you for saying it probably better than I did 😉

          Reply
          • Anonymous

            Hi there Greta,
            Thing is you didn’t start an independent comment- you piggybacked and used Stefanie’s words to make your point right after she vulnerably shared deep hurts by the church. You lacked offering grace and mercy to a child of God in pain from abuses while also ignoring earlier in her paragrah that she needed healing ‘more than’ judgement. She didn’t ignore the usefulness of and need for conviction but shared she needed healing ‘first’.
            Jesus didn’t listen to or see people’s hurts, refuse to help or heal them, then call out how they were wrong. He healed many first ‘so that’ they could be unhindered in knowing Him better.
            When someone identifies judgement as being triggering and we reiterate judgement, it compounds their pain from the church and causes them to stumble on their path of healing. If we patiently help people heal ‘before’ calling out areas of future growth, it is kinder, gentler, and more in line with Jesus’ methods and the fruit of the Spirit.
            Just my two-bits. I hope you hear it in the heart it’s meant. Peace to you.

    • Karena

      “We don’t have to view ourselves as supremely horrible to understand God as supremely good.”

      Wow, this!!!

      What an incredibly rich discussion in these comments. I am so encouraged by the intelligent questions, critical thinking, and graceful discourse here.

      Sheila and team, thank you so much for inviting us into important conversations like this!! This truly feels like the body of Christ!

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Some posts do feel like that, don’t they?

        Reply
    • TS

      I agree. It’s almost as if in their reformation of what they believed were a stringent and narrowing view of Christianity in Catholicism, they brought with them the asceticism and shame that focused primarily on a life of sin management rather than one of progressive transformation. Sin becomes a solo endeavor, hidden, personal on the one end, and the universalizing of our “sin nature” does little to assuage that personal self-condemnation and shame. We also have little cover for violations that are done to us, through abuses of all types, nor with trauma and death. The fear of being viewed as a victim or weak often leads to silence, and church leaders, often focused on sin management, think more about fixing the issue, resolving the conflict, and moving forward, essentially papering over the cracks of real pain. The Western church struggles in how to approach loss and grief of abuse, and often lacks or underutilizes theologies of lament.

      Reply
  18. CAT

    this article reflects so much of my journey in this past year!

    your site, Mark DeJesus’ podcasts, Rebecca Davis‘ books, Leslie Vernick’s podcasts, Boundaries book, Good Boundaries & GoodByes book, and more recently Adam Young’s podcasts have opened my eyes to so much more – there is so much to life than what I was inundated with by the reformed, evangelical, patriarchal, fundamentalist church system!

    G R A C E

    H O P E

    L O V E

    ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you’re finding it!

      Reply
  19. JoB

    I think that I still have such a shocked reaction to hearing things like, “I’m human” or “I am basically a decent person,” because the evangelism messages/strategies would use those exact same phrases as examples of reasoning or objections that unsaved people would use as excuses to reject the gospel and say that they weren’t really that bad of sinners. I am still really uncomfortable with those particular phrases. Another idea that I find hard to shake is that part of the fairness of God’s justice is that he knows what I would have done if I had a different upbringing or circumstances. How bad would my actions be if I had been born with FAS? Or raised by disordered or abusive parents? Or just had less of a cautious nature that lends itself to impulse control? With that reasoning, all I can think about is how bad I really am at heart, and how anything “good” that people see is just a facade that my privilege affords me. Obviously, I just don’t get it when it comes to Christianity being a source of joy. The idea I absorbed on a level that I cannot untangle myself from is that the basis of my relationship with God is my own inherent badness, and by constantly being reminded of it, that should fill me with love and gratitude that God made a way to save me from the hell that I deserve. And I do know some people (my parents) who do seem to operate in that model with genuine gratitude. However, It makes me feel depressed and honestly like hiding from God more than anything.

    Reply
    • sunnynorth

      I do not know if you will find this helpful and they likely won’t speak to all of the questions you raise here, but two books helped me enormously with a similar struggle: Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman and Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle. They speak about God from very different perspectives but both illuminated the kindness and love of God for me in a way that no church anything ever has before or since.

      Reply
    • Jo R

      “However, It makes me feel depressed and honestly like hiding from God more than anything.”

      My father was an alcoholic and a perfectionist. I am probably a perfectionist by nature, but I surely am by nurture. I could NEVER achieve or do enough, and I could never do anything perfectly enough to satisfy him.

      The church we attended the longest was just more of the same. Do more, do better, be perfect.

      I am now a shell of a human. The saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger isn’t true, or at least not for me. It has crushed me flat.

      I don’t know who I am, what I like, what I want, what I need, because my entire post-college life has been about doing everything for everybody else. I made myself a soulless robot because that’s what everyone said God expected.

      I’m reading tons of books and seeing a therapist that I really like, but the hill looks pretty damn steep. I despair of making any amount of improvement, let alone lasting change.

      One of the books says to figure out my core fear. They give examples like “I’ll be alone” and “No one will love me.” None of the two dozen it listed was remotely like mine: that I’ll still be alive in ten years.

      I’m only in my late 50s, so isn’t that a horrible thing to face? To be living? To admit? (And no, no suicide ideation, so please don’t offer hotlines, etc.)

      I just HURT, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, or ever, really.

      I’m so grateful to Sheila and her team, and to all the commenters here who have shared their own stories, which have helped me recognize my own. Thanks also to those who have been so encouraging to me as I struggle through my anger and pain, noticing the wasted decades and realizing they’re gone forever.

      You’ve all given me so much that I can never express. So I’ll just say thanks and stop rambling.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, Jo R, that made me weep: “that I’ll be alive in 10 years.” Thank you for letting us know you a little better. I’m so sorry for the pain you’re carrying!

        Reply
      • Angharad

        Dear Jo R – sending hugs if you want them. I’m so sorry xxx

        Reply
      • Nessie

        Jo R- Thank you for sharing more, and I too am sorry this feels so hopeless and difficult and… all the bad things.

        You deserve(d) so much better. Thanks for frequently sticking up for others here that are hurting also. You’ve definitely helped me along the way.

        Reply
      • Jo R

        Thanks, all. ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

        Reply
      • JG

        Jo R, saying a prayer for you tonight. May God be with you though all of this. Thank you for sharing your heart.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, that’s an interesting point: the message that you are essentially really, really bad doesn’t make everybody sad, only some. It’s quite interesting how it affects some and not others. Have you ever read the book Attached to God by Krispin Mayfield? I really appreciated it, and it sounds like you would too. You can listen to my podcast with him here.

      Reply
    • CMT

      JoB, I feel you. The specifics are different, but the thought patterns you’re describing sound a lot like ones I am still healing from. I could suggest a few more books, The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson and The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, for example. Books only help so much, though. It’s learning to be honest with myself, and vulnerable with trustworthy people that is really making the change for me. And therapy, which is kind of like vulnerability boot camp! I hope there are people in your life who can be there for you. If not, I hope you go find some. Even if your shame says different, you don’t deserve to deal with this alone.

      Reply
  20. Virginia Allen

    Reknowned Christian psychologist M. Scott Peck
    would have said that Augustine and his friends were engaging in group evil. What none of them would have done alone, getting together they felt empowered and carried out their scheme.

    Reply
    • Ladybug

      Some Christian therapists are beginning to look at a modality known as Internal Family Systems being very closely compatible with ideas you are mentioning here.

      Richard Schwartz (non-Christian) writes some books that address some of these issues in a way that helps people recognize the difference between the things they do (and why they do them) versus the shame we are taught to carry by our theology…despite being told over and over that we are forgiven.

      Reply
  21. Amber Elkins

    Thank you so much for this! It has put words to so many of the thoughts that I have had. Struggling with mental health and being told I must have some sin in my life or am not praying enough that it does not go away. Growing up in purity culture and being taught that my only value as a woman is to be a wife and a mom. I was left feeling so much shame and worthlessness. I’m so thankful for the growth and healing that I have found. I still struggle with depression. I’m still single. But I’m healing. Thank you for being part of this journey!

    Reply
  22. AnnD

    I am so challenged by the conversation here! Thank you ALL for your sharing and insights!

    I have only one contention. This same argument you give us to free us from undue guilt seems also to give the abuser freedom from true guilt. I am discourage by the saying within the church “We are only human” as an excuse to perpetuate easy forgiveness, tolerate another’s sin, and give an explanation of why we should quickly move on from the hurt of others.

    Even the evil person and the oppressor can use your last paragraph:

    “… because there have been far too heavy burdens put on people’s backs, as we’ve blamed ourselves basically for being human.”

    Basically, I should understand their bad behavior, for we are only human. And no heavy burden should be placed on the truly guilty, after all they are only human. I can’t blame them for being human.

    Cannot the same theology that is applied to the hurting, traumatized person be the same theology used toward the sinning abuser. I am only human so don’t put any heavy burdens on me to behave differently.

    Reply
    • Shari Smith

      Oh yes! Abusive people will use these same ideas to try and justify why they should be forgiven for their abuse. But there is a massive difference. An abusive person is abusive. They will say, “I’m only human, you can’t judge me by mistakes,” but there’s no attempt to repair the harm caused, nor is there really any ownership of the harm caused. And when people forgive and forget, the abusive person will still likely be stuck in abusive loops toward others that don’t really change.

      That’s a person who has learned to use theology as a shield and a weapon. Trauma is not an excuse to harm others, ever.

      What Sheila is referring to is the idea that simply being human doesn’t mean that we’re sinning. Normal human behavior like feeling tired or depressed is framed as sinful. In these instances, the person in question has committed no harm, rather they’re the ones being harmed by being taught that simply being human is inherently sinful.

      Reply
  23. Jennifer Bales

    Thank you so much for writing this. I love it so much

    Reply
  24. Beth

    “What if He came to show us that He understands our hormonal changes; our grief; our exhaustion; our disappointments; our longing for something else?
    How would that understanding of Jesus change our faith?”

    Yes, this!

    The vicar at my previous parish would talk about this frequently, God among us he would say. God is among us and all the stuff life throws at us, God knows and understands you and what you are going through. I found this to be such a comforting message, and there was a beautiful spirit of openness at that church.

    For example, when my ex and I were getting divorced a few years ago, I could share what I was going through with people there and they were super supportive and kind. Even when we had only just decided to split up, the bible readings for that week happened to mention grief, and the vicar said something really profound about sharing it with God. I just started sobbing quietly, a couple of other parishoners sitting near me noticed, and just sat with me and shared in my grief. It was a beautiful moment which I will never forget!

    Reply
  25. Mrs. Jay

    I am a SAHM of two young children, 5 and 3, and was recently “diagnosed” with adrenal fatigue by a naturopath right after Christmas.
    My mental health and self-esteem have taking quite a beating over the past year since I considered all of my symptoms–particularly the emotional and mental ones–sinful character flaws. I lost interest in my favorite hobby, writing, and have struggled to find joy or even enjoy being a mother because I’m so exhausted (like, even before I get out of bed in the morning). I’ve been easily overwhelmed by the needs of my children, the endless chores, having to referee disagreements between little people who have no ability to be rational/logical, and have little to no time for myself (my 3yo son still wakes up at night). Homeschooling has been put on the backburner, and so has time with God, to be real, because getting up in the morning before my son gets up 5/5:30 would only add to the burnout. I go to bed with the kids because I’m beat by dinnertime, sometimes all day.
    Like you said, I labeled myself as lazy for not pursuing God enough, not being disciplined enough, being “too emotional” and having too many “evil” and “negative” emotions (like depression, discouragement, anger, irritability) etc., etc. A bunch of garbage, now that I understand more about how worn out adrenals (and thyroids) affect mood, motivation, libido, and other things. It’s not been sin. My body’s been screaming for help.
    Thank you so much for the validation.
    I don’t need a stricter devotion regimen. I need help and hope, and I need Jesus to meet me in my brokenness, to come to me in the mundane, frustrating, tired-of-it-ness of motherhood, because it’s been a physical struggle to come to him. Sometimes it’s because of that fear of condemnation and shame that you mentioned, but more often it’s been that I lack the mental and emotional bandwidth to do so.
    I’m not a sinner.
    I’m a daughter who needs the grace and tender healing of her Father.

    Reply

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