Sunday Catechism: Shades of Night

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Q: Are all sins equally evil?

A: In the eyes of God some sins in themselves are more evil than others, and some are more evil because of the harm that results from them.

"...lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate”

It’s useful to think of sin as an absolute, which it is, for it buckles our inclination to judge or resort to a kind of moral relativism in our assessment of our spiritual state. To know we all sin and that all sin is an abomination is to put all us sinners in the same sinking boat.

At the same time, it is also useful to acknowledge that there are “shades of night.” I can think of four reasons why.

One is that it gives us awe at the scope and reach and power of our God. He operates not only on the cosmic level, physically and metaphysically, but also on the quantum level — and every level in between. His will masters time and principalities but also tracks the follicles of our quotidian concerns. He can intimately comfort and inspire fear in the same breath.

The second is that it endorses our intuitions about justice. Knowing that there are levels and subtleties of crime is the basis of civic order and rule of law. It forms the foundation of ethics and gives footing to philosophy and the common grace of principled thinking.

The third is that it gives texture and toeholds in our sanctification. In our life after sin, clawing out of our slave mindset, we need to see where we need to progress and what progress we have made. To think of sin as nuanced may once have ensnared us in its fierce clutches, but in our emancipation we can now use that knowledge to give us hope.

Finally, and perhaps most important as executors of spiritual education, examining the gradations of sin gives us insight into the nature and character of God. We sometimes have a tendency to paint the gospel in the broadest strokes and the entire Old Testament is reduced to a couple of key concepts: The Fall, covenant, and sacrifice. This gives short shrift to the gift we have in the Word, where God gives us countless case studies on how He reacts to all kinds of sin and situations. We can forensically examine these accounts to garner clues about Him and His concerns. We can glimpse his back as his holiness has passed.

I have warned previously how we need to guard against seeing Bible stories as fables, moral lessons outside of the context of the gospel. Within the context of the gospel, however, we see that they are much more than fables indeed. They are documents of matter reacting against anti-matter — and we can use our understanding of sin to gain an understanding of our road to a transcendent kingdom and its sovereign.

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