A common New Testament word we translate as ‘sin’ is ἁμαρτία (hamartia), and it’s used for when you throw a spear but miss the target. So sin is missing God’s target.
We can play a game to illustrate this. Have a small area for a ‘hit’ and everything else is a ‘miss’.
You will need:
- A target and something to aim with
- a dartboard (only the bull’s eye scores) + darts (or Velcro darts), or
- 3 or 4 hoops of different sizes hoops + bean bags, or
- Cans on a table + Nerf guns, or
- ‘Pin the tail on the Donkey’ + Donkey tails with blu-tak, or
- Small goal + football (and goalie), or
- Hoop + basket ball, or …
Have some fun trying to get the targets, then talk about who hit and who missed.
Chances are, everyone missed at least some of the time. No-one got a goal every time. And if you missed, does it matter to the score if you just clipped the goalpost or if you were miles off? Nope, it makes no difference. ‘A miss is as good as a mile.’ There are no big sins and little sins. Sin is sin is sin.
Then we can talk about forgiveness, how God can wipe out failures and put every dart in the bull’s eye, put every donkey tail slap on the bum, just right.
Rom. 3:23 says we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. We all miss the mark. But we “are now justified by his grace as a gift”, (verse 24). What Good News!
It’s well-established that we all have an inclination to judge ourselves, let us say, ‘generously’. You’ve probably heard of the study where 93% of drivers rated themselves as better than average, which is simply not possible*. We all do it, in all kinds of areas. Even me, and I think I’m less susceptible to such psychological slips than most. (There it is again).
The double whammy comes when we don’t really know what we’re talking about, and so can’t properly judge our ability – the dreaded ‘Mount Stupid’. Like a drunk driver thinking they are safe – not only are they unsafe, but they’re not able to judge their (lack of) ability.
It’s called the ‘Dunning-Kruger Effect’ If you draw a graph of actual ability against perceived ability, there’s a peak where incompetent people think they’re really good. This is Mount Stupid. With a smattering of skill I know a bit, but not enough to realise just how much I don’t know. It’s like a mental blind spot. I can’t see what I can’t see because I can’t see it. You see?
So what does all this have to do with Nathan’s dramatic “You are that man!”?
David was at the top of Mount Stupid.
He thought he was close buddies with God, but in reality he was a million miles away.(And guess who moved?) He had a massive blind spot – and Bathsheba was in it.
In case you don’t know the story, David had slept with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. She became pregnant and David arranged for Uriah to have an ‘accident’. Oh yes. And David was supposed to be a man after God’s own heart.
“But I’ve never done anything like that”, we say. “I wouldn’t. And if I did I know I’d done wrong. Not like David.”
Well, firstly, I’m glad if you have not got someone else’s wife pregnant then had them murdered to cover it up – me neither – but that’s not really the point. God’s kingdom does not have ‘big’ sins that matter and ‘little’ sins that don’t.
We are all of us susceptible to these blind spots. David’s just happened to be a very juicy, news-worthy one. When I look back on things I’ve done I sometimes wonder how on earth I could have thought that was a good idea. Couldn’t I see that was a bad choice? Apparently not.
We all of us, all of us, underestimate our ability to sin. Yes, even church leaders, even famous theologians, even popular worship leaders, even me, even you. And when we’re in it, proudly aloft Mount Stupid, we’ll have that massive blind spot that Jesus pointed out with his pithy ‘plank in the eye’ phrase.
We need a Nathan.
David needed Nathan top boot him off Mount Stupid down to Reality Valley. We need folks around us who can see into our blind spots and can give us warning.
May we thank God for those brave souls who have our best interests at heart. And may we heed them!
*A note on averages:
We’re talking median (middle value when they are arranged in order), not mean (add them up and divide by how many).
It is possible to have most people higher (or lower) than the mean in a skewed population; most cats have more than the mean number of tails, and everyone I know has been struck by lightning fewer than the mean number of times. But there must be exactly 50% of a population above the median and 50% below, because that’s what median means.
I’d expect driving ability to be a normal distribution with mean about the same as median.
</end maths geek mode>
2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a The Message
When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she grieved for her husband. When the time of mourning was over, David sent someone to bring her to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son.
But God was not at all pleased with what David had done, and sent Nathan to David. Nathan said to him, “There were two men in the same city—one rich, the other poor. The rich man had huge flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. The poor man had nothing but one little female lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up with him and his children as a member of the family. It ate off his plate and drank from his cup and slept on his bed. It was like a daughter to him.
“One day a traveler dropped in on the rich man. He was too stingy to take an animal from his own herds or flocks to make a meal for his visitor, so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared a meal to set before his guest.”
David exploded in anger. “As surely as God lives,” he said to Nathan, “the man who did this ought to be lynched! He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!”
“You’re the man!” said Nathan. “And here’s what God, the God of Israel, has to say to you: I made you king over Israel. I freed you from the fist of Saul. I gave you your master’s daughter and other wives to have and to hold. I gave you both Israel and Judah. And if that hadn’t been enough, I’d have gladly thrown in much more. So why have you treated the word of God with brazen contempt, doing this great evil? You murdered Uriah the Hittite, then took his wife as your wife. Worse, you killed him with an Ammonite sword! And now, because you treated God with such contempt and took Uriah the Hittite’s wife as your wife, killing and murder will continually plague your family. This is God speaking, remember! I’ll make trouble for you out of your own family. I’ll take your wives from right out in front of you. I’ll give them to some neighbor, and he’ll go to bed with them openly. You did your deed in secret; I’m doing mine with the whole country watching!”
Then David confessed to Nathan, “I’ve sinned against God.”
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
Kruger, Justin; Dunning, David (1999). “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. American Psychological Association. 77 (6): 1121–1134.
When It Comes To Driving, Most People Think Their Skills are Above Average
Roy, M. M., Liersch, M. J. (2014). I am a better driver than you think: examining self-enhancement for driving ability.
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43(8), 1648–1659. DOI: 10.1111/jasp.12117
ARE WE ALL LESS RISKY AND MORE SKILLFUL THAN OUR FELLOW DRIVERS?
Ola SVENSON Department of Psychology, University of Stockholm, Sweden