I was recently asked by my daughter about sin and if, as she learned growing up, that all sin was the same OR if, as she is being taught in college (a Roman Catholic College – Belmont Abbey – check them out it is a great school), that sins are ranked and some are therefore worse than others. What follows is a slight reworking (hopefully more readable than the fast answer I fired off without any significant editing) of the answer I sent to her.
The problem among the various Protestant denominations is that they claim is that all sin is equal but their practice is (as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm) some sins are “more equal than others.” Roman Catholics admit out loud hat they believe some sins are worse than others but they, on the other hand, do not always defend it well as the comparisons used to defend their position are typically straw men such as the “which is worse – eating a whole cake (gluttony) vs mass murder” question that has such a seemingly obvious answer. So in an attempt to answer the question, here it goes:
All sins are equal in the regard that all/any sin separates people from God and cause a resultant need for a Saviour. Yet, all sins are not equal in regard that some are identified as more damaging to self and others than some different sins, while there are other sins that can, in fact, bring a real and tangible benefit. e.g. Although drunkenness is a sin, the use of drink to numb one’s trouble is suggested in the Bible; although lying is a sin, deceit is occasionally rewarded. Neither will hold up for long but there are biblical examples of the rare allowances.
On the other hand there are the sin lists given by Paul which clearly identify a few sins as absolute no-go areas. Some of the sins involve destruction toward others while other sins are destructive toward self. The question becomes why the division, and, sorry to say, there is little to indicate the answer.
Part of the problem is that we approach the concern from a modern western mindset which – funny enough – is not how God designed the world or described it through His various authors. We want to compare what is wrong based on what we think and then rate it as to how wrong. That is almost purely context driven – Example the Baptist who condemns the person who drank one beer with one hot dog but does not think twice about the guy who eats 8 hot dogs. Well gluttony is declared a sin in the Bible but responsible use of alcohol is not. The “sin” of drinking is purely a cultural construct.
God views the world as He designed it – perfect. Adam and Eve did not commit a mortal or venial sin – they committed sin – anything that is less than perfect. The “little” sin of eating what they should not have led to all “big” sins (like murder, rape, etc) since. Therefore, the little sin cannot be less than the big sin as the big resulted from the little and, if we have to follow to logical conclusion, that makes the little the biggest of all.
This brings the question to the only spot I can begin to think it might make sense – why did you do what you did? Adam and Eve wanted to be like God – huge sin. Your mother’s dinner was amazing and I ate way too much – minor sin. Both are eating sins but the intent of one was to defy God’s command for the sake of self-promotion and the other was simple over enjoyment of God’s provision lovingly made. Both are less than the perfection of creation as God created it, therefore both are sin, both are issues that have be dealt with. That said, one indicates a matter of heart condition that is much more difficult to repent of than the other.
My daughter’s classmate ended up asking her: Suppose you know a hermit who is going to commit suicide. You also know that he loves chocolate cake, and if you gave him a cake he would eat it, giving you time to prevent the suicide. Would you give him the cake?
She answered yes and he followed by questioning: Why? If both gluttony and mass murder are considered equal sins in the sight of God, why does it matter? If sin is sin is sin, then why is keeping him from mass murder better than keeping him from gluttony?
It is this straw man that got her thinking and asking just what do we believe about sin and why. My answer, to the best I could give one, is as follows:
Suicide of a Hermit – self murder – the willful destruction of God’s creation – suicide is only considered if there is serious self-loathing or absolute desperation which in effect denies the power of God to intervene – seems pretty major to me (and according to some Christians and taught by almost all of the “Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers” not forgivable because you cannot repent thereafter – but is not a doctrine held by all Christians but that is a different matter).
Distracting a suicidal person with the sin of gluttony – desire for another to live (either from existing relationship or simple preservation of life given by God) seems a noble use of ignoble action.
At the end of the day we must each ask ourselves why we did what we have done.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” ~1 Peter 4:8~