I've been thinking a lot about sin lately, and mainly because it's been so prevalent in my life.
Now, before anyone gets into a sin-versus-morality conundrum, let me toss this caveat out there: the sin(s) I am referring to are the ones I am convicted of. They're specific, they're thorns in my flesh, and they're focused on trying to trip me up or bring me down. I'm not wading into the waters of wide debate on such "hot topic" - or, really, political - issues like sexual orientation or the like.
What initially got me started thinking on this was due to the fact that I am trying (poorly, at times) to sit and read the Book of Proverbs all the way through for once. I'd heard people go on and on about how there are 31 chapters in the book, and a number of months have 31 days in them, so -boom. Instant Bible plan. And other than how I am learning (a) I apparently have heard/read a lot of this book before (b) there are a number of repeated themes throughout it, and (c) I have gotten really crappy at reading and studying the Bible, I'm also discovering that I think God wrote part of this book for me.
For example: there's the oft-quoted Proverbs 26:11: "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness" (NLT). Normally, as was my initial exposure to it, this verse is used to hammer home to young and impressionable believers that repeat sinners are gross. And stupid. Because, yes, dogs do return to their vomit. And many times, they will in fact try to eat it, unless a loving owner is the to drag them away by the scruff of the neck. So if you stop to compare that to a sin you happen to repeat - anger, for example - you are inferred to be a dumb, dumb heathen who clearly doesn't get the idea of grace and repentance, and God needs to just grab you and haul your mongrel self away.
But for many of us who return to our own spiritual puke time and again, it's not that we have a craving for regurgitated lust or lies. When we return to our vomit, it's more out of shame and humiliation, because we are forced - often by our own actions - to look at what has just come out of us. We are made to confront the fact that we put something into us, it did a number on our insides, and then it came out, worse than when it went in. And when it came out, it didn't come out alone; it took out some other healthy, beneficial parts of our insides as well. We stare, gape-jawed, at the fruit of our heaving.
For me, I'm wrestling with the question of when I sin, what is it exactly that makes me want to return to God? Is it guilt and shame that makes me want to return, seeking His forgiveness for the mess I just puked up? Or is it something inside of me that understands how far from Him I have gone, and like a kid who just wants to be near his dad, I want to just be in His presence, and offer a sincere, tears-included "I'm sorry for the mess" confession.
Or maybe a little of both.
The verb "returns" in that verse - shuwb - is actually a rather common verb in the Old Testament, occurring more than 1000 times. The basic meaning of it is "movement back to the point of departure." So maybe instead of the verse just being a pithy little proverb (ba-doom!) about life, maybe it's also telling us that the dog in question isn't so stupid after all.
If the dog can be smart enough to return to the point of where its natural digestive course took a turn for the worse, it should be relatively easy for me, an at-times smarter creature, to return to where my natural spiritual growth took a turn for the worse...and I vomited. I need to own up to this mess I have made, not trying to eat it to conceal the evidence, but instead to get on my knees and ask for the Spirit to Oxi-Clean my heart and to help me with cleaning up what I have done in the houses of others. After all, as Proverbs 28:13 says, "People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy" (NLT).
And then maybe hold communion with some saltine crackers & some ginger ale to seal this covenant of repentance.