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The Collateral Damage of Sin

Eight-year-old Aryanna Schneeberg was playing in her backyard near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when she was struck in the back with an arrow. A neighbor was attempting to shoot a squirrel, but his weapon missed its intended target and instead penetrated the child’s lung, spleen, stomach, and liver. She bears the scars that come with surviving such an injury.

We ought to think of Aryanna every time we hear a preacher explaining the Greek word for sin, hamartia, as “missing the mark.” Like most pulpit clichés, this one points to something that’s partly right. The problem, though, is that … we think of a bucolic setting where we are shooting our arrows toward a target on a bale of hay. The metaphor is almost comforting: We see ourselves not as criminals or rebels but as being off our game now and then. We reach into our quiver for one more chance to get it right.

That’s not how the Bible describes sin. The Bible says sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). When it categorizes sins, it consistently does so in terms that imply both perpetrators and victims: enmity, dissension, oppression of orphans and widows, adultery, covetousness. In that light, sin is less like target practice on some isolated piece of countryside and more like loosing arrows on a city sidewalk in the midst of a pressing crowd. All around us are bodies, writhing or dead, struck down by our errant arrows.

Possible Preaching Angle:

In a sermon on sin, a preacher might also quote the Puritan John Owen: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” That’s true too. And yet it doesn’t quite say enough: Our sin might also be killing those around us. “The wages of sin is death,” the Bible tells us (Rom. 6:23). That death might not simply be one’s own, but also one’s neighbors.

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