Sins of Omission: Making Sense of Our Guilt

Sins of Omission: Making Sense of Our Guilt …

          ‘‘So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

The fundamental concept of original sin actually makes a lot of sense; by our very ability to make choices and exercise our will in this world, we inevitably end up sinning.  We either sin through intention, or take the proverbial road to hell with good intentions, and still sin.  Or at least we enact  sins, even if, in our hearts, we never intended the harm caused by sin.  This is just part of our human condition, and not one among us is free of sin.

These sins, whether sins of commission (we chose to do it) or sins of omission (we simply didn’t choose not to do it) will matter to us if we believe God looks into our hearts.  It is, relatively speaking, easier to avoid sins of commission than sins of omission.  I know many morally lazy people that, by society’s standards, are considered ‘good people’.  They simply don’t commission sins (perhaps because they want to avoid social opprobrium or jail!).  But when you look at what they don’t do, they are clearly sinners of omission.  They fail to help those in need when they are well-able; they choose to ignore evils that they could possibly right.  Their laziness makes them appear virtuous, but in fact, they are sinners just the same.

On the other hand, for those of us who try our best to avoid sins of both commission and omission, there is invariably guilt associated with our sins of omission.  The problem with our human minds, so well-endowed to imagination and abstraction, is that we can think of more things we feel we ‘ought to do’ than we are able to actually do.  The three-score and ten, two-arms, two-legs, one-mouth thing limits us terribly.  This begs the question then as to where our sinning by omission truly stops, and concomitantly, where our feelings of guilt too should stop.

There is no easy answer, of course, as to at what point our efforts should register as ‘no sins of omission’.  At best we know in our hearts how hard we try, and we also need to recognize that we, too, are God’s creatures, and it is a sin to sacrifice the goodness of our own lives too.  Leading a moral life that is respectful of God’s will (as best as we can interpret His will as flawed mortals), even while recognizing that we can never fully ‘succeed’, would seemingly create a continual tension of effort and guilt.  The joy of living is lost.  While there is no easy answer to say ‘enough’ when we speak of sins of omission, there is an easy solution.

The solution is found in God’s forgiveness.  It is His gift to us.  He took away the sins of the world in order that we may live freely and with joy.  While His mercy doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to try to avoid sin, His gift allows us to live with gratitude rather than remorse.

Peter’s Thoughts for This Day!

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