What is Sin?


Let’s talk about premarital sex; it’s been on my mind today after watching The Real World last night (I know, less trashy television, more job hunting; but a girl needs to indulge in her guilty pleasures every once in a while). Before I start, let me begin by saying that I was born and raised Catholic, so this will be written from a Christian point of view. Do I celebrate Mass every Sunday? No. Do I believe all of the doctrine of the Catholic Church? No. Would some people argue that I’m not a true Catholic because of my answers to the previous question? Probably (that’s a whole other post, my friends). But, do I believe that people should avoid having sex before marriage, as the Catholic Church teaches? Absolutely, yes.

Now, before you run off, scared that I’m about to get up on my religious high horse, let me stop you. I had sex before marriage. I won’t judge you if you did too. I won’t judge you if you completely disagree with everything I’m about to say. I’m going to talk about what I think about sin, but not in the way you might expect. If I haven’t scared you off just yet, go ahead and keep reading. And don’t be afraid to leave a comment – whether you agree or disagree – I’m all for a healthy debate.

What is Sin?

Many religious people think of sin as something that should be avoided so that you will not be punished by the wrath of God. “Don’t sin,” they say, “because you will face eternal suffering in hell.” Many people believe you shouldn’t have sex before marriage because if you do, you will have sinned and God will be mad at you. If you sin, you will need to repent and ask for forgiveness. God forbid you die before you ask for forgiveness, because if you do, you will go directly to hell, do not pass Go, no “get out of jail free card” available. Just don’t sin; you don’t want to be punished forever in the next life.

I have a different view. God loves you, that’s what God is: Love. This isn’t to say that loving someone means you never punish them – parents punish their children every day. But parents also don’t eternally punish their children because of mistakes, even if the child never fully understands what she did wrong or never admits to the wrongdoing or never apologizes. Thank God for that, by the way; one time, when I was five, I snuck off to the bathroom and flushed a taco down the toilet because my mom told me I had to finish all my food, and when she asked where the taco went I lied and claimed I ate it while going to the bathroom. Disgusting, I know, but I didn’t want that taco and didn’t know what else to do! My mom knew I was lying and scolded me, but I never apologized (or at least, never apologized sincerely). I still don’t think I was entirely wrong for flushing that taco, but I digress. Most loving parents don’t disown their child forever because he shoplifted or did drugs – they love their child and try to help him so that he can have a better, happier life. And if the child doesn’t change, well, that parent still loves and wishes the best for the child. They hope he will repent, change his ways, and find happiness.

I think God is the same as a loving parent. I believe God doesn’t want you to sin because there’s a good chance the sin will make life more difficult for you. The sinful act will hurt you, cause you unnecessary pain and strife, and steal from your happiness. When we hold the traditional view of sin and eternal damnation, we are getting lost in translation. We naturally think of punishment as something that someone else forces upon us: when we misbehave, our parents give us a time out, or when we forget to turn in our homework, our teacher gives us a bad grade. We grow up with this concrete understanding of the word punishment, so it’s no wonder that’s how we read and understand it in the Bible. But what if God didn’t mean punishment in the same way? What if God doesn’t want us to sin, not because He will send us to hell in the future, but because our sin will put us through a figurative “hell on earth” right now?

That’s what sin is. A sin is something that causes us pain and misery. Not eternal pain and misery sometime in the future. Pain and misery right now. Sin should be avoided, because if we avoid sin, we will avoid some of life’s most terrible sadness and strife. We, as Christians, are taught that sin is bad, not because our God is a “my way or the highway” kind of guy, but because God loves us and wants us to have a beautiful, happy life, with limited sadness and pain and maximum happiness and fulfillment.

Back to Premarital Sex.

Premarital sex is a great example for me to use to illustrate my view of sin because I have experienced it firsthand. But before I start talking about me, let’s talk about the scenario that was portrayed on The Real World last night. Lauren took a pregnancy test, and it came back positive, leading her to realize that the unprotected sex she’d had before coming on the show had resulted in an unplanned pregnancy with a guy she wasn’t in love with.

For those of you who don’t follow the show, here’s a little background: Lauren is the ex-girlfriend of Cory, one of the original seven roommates cast in The Real World: Ex-Plosion. Lauren entered the Real World house when the producers brought back each of the original roommates’ most recent ex. Lauren and Cory have known each other since seventh grade, have an extremely close bond, and have dated on and off for years. When Lauren had unprotected sex before coming on the show, she wasn’t in an exclusive relationship with Cory. She didn’t cheat on him, but she did have sex with someone else. She arrived at the Real World house, and her and Cory seemed to be working on mending their relationship. They had been getting along really well, and seemed to be rekindling their bond with one another. Cory talked about how he saw Lauren as the love of his life and the person he wanted to end up spending forever with.

But then, Lauren announces that she is pregnant. She didn’t mean for the pregnancy to happen, she made a mistake by not using protection (and, as I would argue, for having sex outside of a fully committed marital relationship), and it’s very obvious that the decision she made caused her great misery and pain. Cory is in pain too, and lashes out at Lauren, undoubtably adding to her suffering. He clearly cares deeply for Lauren, but doesn’t know how to handle her bearing the child of someone else, just as their relationship was starting to get back on track.

Lauren later described the day she found out about the unplanned pregnancy as “the worst day of her life.” I bet she felt like she was “going through hell” in that moment. I don’t know her, and depictions of events on reality television are rarely all that real, but I can confidently say that in a situation like the one portrayed on national television last night, many women would feel as though they were in hell. I am confident about this, because even though I have never been through what Lauren went through, I have been close.

Two months before I met the man who is now my husband (whom I will call Adam), I made a mistake. My ex-boyfriend (whom I will call Bobby) and I had been broken up for six months, but I was taking it hard. I had sex with Bobby two months before meeting Adam – I could blame it on the alcohol, say I was overcome with sadness about the breakup, or try to make you understand why I did what I did by telling you about all the other challenges I was facing at the time, but I won’t make any excuses because I honestly don’t remember why I did it. I didn’t love Bobby, I didn’t think I was going to marry him, we weren’t even in a relationship anymore. I made a mistake that I regretted instantly, and I never spoke to Bobby again after that night. I wasn’t happy with myself, but the consequences of my actions weren’t immediate. I forgave myself relatively quickly and moved on with my life.

It wasn’t until two months later, when I was out late at night, driving around with Adam, that all hell broke loose. Adam and I met through a mutual friend in March, just a few weeks after the incident with Bobby. We spent much of that month really getting to know each other, and we grew instantly close. We bonded almost immediately, and with every day that passed, my feelings for him deepened. Adam and I were a wonderful pair and I was so excited to see how our budding relationship would blossom.

A month after we met for the first time, Adam picked me up from a family Easter gathering late in the evening and began driving me back to his hometown so we could spend a few days together before heading back to school. It was a long drive back to his house and I had a lot on my mind. My period was a day or two late and I had been feeling extremely fatigued recently. Adam and I had never had sex, and I’d already had a period since the hook up with Bobby, but I’m an extremely anxious person and the “what-ifs” had moved in and taken over my brain. I was no longer rational and downright hysterical. I am not the kind of person that can keep this kind of irrationality inside. I don’t do secrets, not because I don’t believe that everyone is entitled to privacy, but because I simply can’t keep the big secrets inside. When something is bothering me, it usually slowly begins to seep out, until I finally can’t stand it anymore, and let it spew out on whomever is closest to me. In this case, Adam was the unlucky victim drenched in my verbal vomit.

I told him everything. I told him about the mistake I had made two months before with Bobby. I told him about how my period was a little late, how I felt bloated, how I was tired all the time, how I felt like I had to pee every second, and how I was absolutely, one hundred percent sure that I was carrying the child of another man while trying to start a new relationship with him. He was taken aback. It was dark in the car, so I couldn’t see his exact facial expression, but I’m sure he was wondering what the hell was going on. He was angry, too, but he didn’t start a fight. I asked him what would happen if I was pregnant; I needed to know if we would stop talking, if the relationship we had barely begun would come to an end. He answered by taking me to the drug store, buying me a pregnancy test, and telling me that if I was pregnant with someone else’s child, he wouldn’t be able to continue seeing me. He said he couldn’t handle it. And I couldn’t blame him; he probably felt like he barely knew me after hearing news like this, we weren’t in love just yet, and we were young.

But just because I understood, didn’t mean I wasn’t devastated by his answer. When I met Adam, I knew that he was quite likely the person that I would marry. I had never had a connection with someone like the connection I had with Adam. I wasn’t certain about the future we would have together, but I knew that there was potential. Adam was someone I could talk to, I was comfortable with him, and he had been helping me through a lot of messy stuff. He knew things about me that only a handful of other people knew, and he was by far the best at getting me through the difficult times. The worrying that I had been feeling for three nights before telling Adam my fears that night in the car were awful – I felt sick, sad, and more alone than I had ever felt before. Having to jeopardize my relationship with Adam by telling him my fears was excruciatingly difficult. Waiting those two minutes for the results of that pregnancy test to come back, knowing Adam was sitting, worried in the other room, was hell. Being pregnant now, and understanding what a blessing we have been given when there are so many who can’t get pregnant, I realize how utterly sad and unfortunate it is that when the pregnancy test came back negative, my heart instantly leapt for joy.

You see, if I hadn’t had sex before marriage, I never would have had to feel that kind of pain and suffering. That night, driving back to Adam’s house, would likely have been filled only with happiness. It would have felt a whole lot more like a slice of heaven than a pit of hell. I know it’s sexy to say “no regrets,” but I do have regrets about having sex with Bobby that night. I regret that I very well could have missed out on the beautiful marriage I have now because of a meaningless night with someone who I knew I would never end up with. I regret having sinned, not because I think God is holding it against me, but because I know that God didn’t want me to have to suffer. Sure, I learned a lot from that experience and for that I am grateful, but I would have much rather learned that lesson from a homily at Mass, a Sunday school lesson, or a witness talk at a church retreat.

I’m also not saying that everyone who has premarital sex will go through hell. Punishment doesn’t always hurt the same way. Not everyone is spanked when they make a mistake. My point is, God doesn’t want you to sin because he doesn’t want you to have to experience pain and suffering, in whatever form that pain and suffering takes. So don’t dismiss the concept of sin just because you struggle to believe that God will send you into a fiery pit for eternity. Don’t assume that God put rules in the Bible because He wanted to stifle your freedom and encroach on your lifestyle. Have faith that God defined sins for you to avoid because He wants the best for you, doesn’t want you to suffer, and most importantly, because He loves you.