The easiest way to justify sin is a simple, well-tested excuse: “It doesn’t hurt anyone else!” Don’t tell me to stop getting drunk – I don’t hurt anyone! Why shouldn’t I look at pornography – who does it hurt? How does telling a dirty joke hurt anyone? It doesn’t matter if I don’t read my Bible, because it only hurts me! Besides being sociological naive, and foolishly short-sighted, this attitude is biblically wrong. The Bible teaches us that we live in a vibrantly interconnected community, where no one’s decisions happen in a vacuum. We cannot sin without hurting others!
A great illustration of interconnectivity comes from the book of Joshua. When the Israelites conquered the Canaanites in the promised land, God gave stipulations of what spoils soldiers could keep, what spoils soldiers must destroy, and what spoils soldiers must give to God. For instance, soldiers were commanded to give all the gold they found to God. Nonetheless one man, named Achan, coveted the gold he found and kept it for himself. The consequences were disastrous. Read what happened to the Israelites,
The people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan . . . took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel … So about 3000 [Israelite] men went up there from the people [to war against the men of Ai]. And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water (Joshua 7:1,2,4,5).
Achan likely thought that the worst consequence of his disobedience, would be his personal dismissal from the Israelite community. He might have thought, “Who does it hurt if I just take a little gold for myself? There’s plenty left over!”
But the Bible makes it clear that as a result of his sin 36 men died in war. Achan not only hurt himself, but he hurt all the families who lost husbands and fathers, all of the parents who lost sons. He hurt the networks of families that would need to provide financial and emotional care for widowed mothers.
It’s easy for us to assume that my sin only hurts me, but that assumption is naive and untrue. Substance abuse leads others astray, and deeply alienate our friends and family. Deviant sexuality marginalizes other humans and desensitizes us to the privacy and intimacy of sexuality.
Even more darkly, our secret idols not only crush our own souls, but also the souls around us. Our idol of control wrecks other’s human right to autonomy. Our idol of success severs family/friendship ties when we overwork. Our idol of body image suffocates relational depth and creates secret spheres of life that alienate those who love us.
There is not one sin on the face of planet earth that does only hurts one person. Our sin ripples destruction through our community.
So what can we do? Well, the Israelites responded to Achan’s sin by turning to God’s representative, Joshua. He interceded for the Israelites, pleaded to God for mercy, and then enacted justice against Achan. But Joshua could not solve the Israelite’s ultimate problem – they continued to sin and worship idols. They needed a better intercessor, a true Joshua.
We too, need someone to intercede on our behalf. We need someone to make amends for our sin that ripples across our community. We need a better Joshua. We need Jesus Christ.
By his death, Christ interceded for us. His death for our sin did not curse us, but blessed us, and through his death we can not only come before God, but pray for God to restore the interwoven networks of relationships that our sin hurt.
So let me suggest this: if you naively think that your sin only hurts you, confess your foolishness to God, and ask him for mercy through Christ. Then take faith, our mediator is faithful to hear our prayers, and faithful even to heal the wounds we caused.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:14-16).