Sin -- A Spiritual Disease, Not a Moral Failing

Sin -- A Spiritual Disease, Not a Moral Failing

A Story by Bishop R. Joseph Owles

Stop thinking of sin as a moral failing and start thinking of it as a spiritual illness. We do not "choose" to sin any more than someone with cancer chooses to experience pain. The sin that we do is the symptom of our spiritual disease.

When we say "I am a sinner," it should have the same effective meaning as "I am a diabetic," or "I am an asthmatic," -- in that even though we use the form of the verb "to be," we are not saying that diabetes is something we are, but a condition we have that we must endure. Nobody says to a diabetic (even when her blood sugar is dangerously high, even when she is eating a piece of cake) that she is morally weak, or bad, or that God does not love her. We may tell her she has to find ways to do a better job managing the symptoms of her disease, but we do not blame her for having the disease, nor do we threaten her with eternal torment if she cannot find a cure, or manager her disease well.

Sin is a spiritual illness -- it is diabetes for the spirit -- and even though I may say, "I'm a sinner," I am not saying that a sinner is WHO I am, I'm saying it is a condition -- something I must endure.

Now the good news is that even though I must suffer through life with the disease of sin, and even though that there will be many times in my life when the symptoms of that disease will flair up and cause myself and even others pain, there are ways of dealing with the disease, so that it's outbreaks are lessened. Sin is a disease that may never be in complete remission, but we can keep it in check much of the time.

The first thing that I find helpful when thinking about my own sinful nature, is to remember that I'm not bad person trying to be good, I'm a (spiritually) sick person trying to be well.

Then I must accept that I am powerless over sin. I cannot control it. This does not mean that I willingly dive into temptation and sin every chance I get, but it does mean that the specter of sin is always present in my life -- some days I am better suited to ignore it; other days it plows right over me. My response is not to beat myself up over sinning, but to remember that I have a spiritual illness and this is the symptom.

God has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a regular treatment for the disease of sin. Just as I have to take an allergy pill every morning, I have to routinely go to Confession. The allergy medicine builds up over time, and the grace of Reconciliation also build up, allowing me to withstand greater degrees of the symptoms of sin without then causing me to suffer. But just as if I stop taking the allergy medicine, the symptoms return, and I am very quickly worse off than I was before I started taking the medicine, when I stop availing myself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the symptoms of my spiritual illness come back stronger than ever, and it seems that I am worse off than I had ever been.

So the purpose of Confession is not to feel bad about our sins and then grovel before someone to forgive us. (I think this is what a lot of Protestants really believe about it and a lot of Catholics too.) The purpose of Confession is to give us an ongoing booster shot that treats the illness we have, reduces the symptoms we have already encountered, and stop a resurgence of new symptoms.

So just as we should have no problem going to a doctor and discussing the symptoms of our physical ailments, we should have no problem going to a priest and discussing our spiritual ailments. We cannot get physically healthy unless we acknowledge our physical symptoms and problems. We cannot become spiritually healthy if we do not acknowledge our spiritual symptoms and problems.

© 2013 Bishop R. Joseph Owles

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Added on May 23, 2013
Last Updated on May 23, 2013
Tags: sin, forgiveness, reconciliation, confession, disease, illness, spirit, spiritual, soul, powerless, moral, failing, symptom


Bishop R. Joseph Owles
Bishop R. Joseph Owles

Alloway, NJ

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