What exactly is sin? To answer that we should first make a simple observation: we are all, at a fundamental level, unsatisfied. And more to the point, we know it: “People are much sadder than they seem,” concluded St. John Vianney.
Our minds are hungry for truth and want it in great waves. But they get it, if at all, only in small doses and tiny drops. Likewise, our hearts hunger for goodness, and they get it, if at all, in dribs and drabs. We seem to know what to do, and what to be, but we seem fundamentally incapable of realizing it.
There just seems to be something “broken” in all of us, something not as it should be. Even worse, we know in our more honest moments that there is nothing we can do about it. Our minds are flawed, and we can’t think them back into health; our wills are weak and we can’t will them back into strength.
I realize how difficult this is for us to accept. Optimism and a can-do attitude belongs to the mythology of America, a country born of Enlightenment rationalism and confidence. But whenever we as individuals or nations try to lift ourselves up out of this problem, we make matters worse. Whenever we listen to a guru, a demagogue, a dictator, or a self-help psychologist, who tell us that all will be well either through economic, political, cultural, or interior reform, we make matters worse.
This is our misery, but it is also, in an odd way, our greatness. We are broken, but since we are made in the image and likeness of God, he can fix us. One of the most important spiritual tasks then, especially in our time, is to awaken to the fact of sin–and to acknowledge our need for a savior.
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician,” Jesus claimed, “but the sick do.” Only when we recognize our deep brokenness and dissatisfaction, neither of which we can heal on our own, can we encounter the One who fully heals.
“One of the most important spiritual tasks then, especially in our time, is to awaken to the fact of sin–and to acknowledge our need for a savior.”
– Adapted from Father Robert Barron