Catechism: Breaking Bad

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Q14. What is sin?

Sin is disobeying or not conforming to God’s law in any way.

In this age of self-actualization, it can seem counter-cultural to explain sin and sinfulness to little kids, but I think a maturing understanding of sin is a healthy part of growing up.

The youngest live in a nimbus of grace; they are fully aware of their limitation and dependence, but also fully expectant of forgiveness, encouragement, and growth. As children grow in their capabilities, they also grow in their awareness of possibility, both good and bad, a sense that their desire could veer from the general expectation. Even further, they become aware of their limitations and shortcomings… and the shortcomings of the world around them — including their parents.

This dawning realization is not only realistic, it is essential to stoke the hunger for something more… a God bigger and brighter than oneself or the whole world itself.

We should be careful how we define sin for our children, however. If we use the term as just a cudgel against (personal) disobedience, we do them a disservice. Sin is not just open defiance against a direct order, especially if that order comes from a human source. If we say that sin is “being bad,” we again distort what it is — sin makes us always bad, not just when we make a mistake. On the other hand, if we only talk about sin as a universal condition of humanity, we devalue the import of our actions and choices.

Sin is a claustrophobic reality of being permanently, hopelessly, irrecoverably outside of God’s law, but it is also a power, a judgment to choose oneself over God. One needs only to see a child spiraling into a tantrum or sinking into a “mood” to know the two are linked.

We would do well to help our kids reflect more and more deeply upon their sinfulness and the consequences of their sin — not to quash their potential — but to release it to the mercy of our Maker.

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