I (Jeff) had great zeal, but shallow theology when we were first married. It’s embarrassing to admit how simplistic my view of sin was at the time … and how easily I believed godliness could be attained by outward conformity. When we were engaged and I found out she was making herself vomit (not labeling it as bulimia), I told her that of course I wanted to marry her and that I just wanted her to promise never to do it again. (I loved her then, but not nearly as much as now.)
Nobody taught me to be so simple-minded, but I viewed sin as easily overcome, a thing you rather just simply stop doing. We now call this a “thin view of sin,” which is also accompanied by a “thin view of grace.” In other words, if sin does not run deep, then one does not really need that much grace. A thin view of sin is appealing at popular-level Christianity, but it leaves its adherents hopeless and powerless to face reality, and its principles give non-Christians a reason to cry “Hypocrites!” when they fall.
The “thick view of sin” helps us realize that sin runs deep, that Aubrey is no worse than the child who disobeys his/her parent (straight up Romans 1 there). My thin view pushed her toward hopelessness. When she was struggling, what did I do but hand her my Bible … the very Bible she tore to pieces?!
Sin runs deep! We often don’t understand the struggles of others, because theirs seem simplistic to us, until we get married, have kids, deploy, move eight times, and endure medical school. Then we start to understand that we’re all sinners.
Aubrey may graciously paint a fonder picture of me, but the truth is that I’m a chief of sinners, though my sins aren’t often worn on my sleeve … unless you spend a couple hours with me … and then what I’m wearing is probably related to one of our children’s snot.
For instance, I was horrified to discover that the first time she really entertained the idea of making herself vomit was when I told her a story about being an idiot and having a cookie-eating contest in college and vomiting with my own friend on video … for the floor’s entertainment. I found this out after 8 years of marriage.
Sin runs deep, but where sin runs deep, grace runs deeper. A thin view of sin results in running from Jesus when you’ve failed, because you think you can do it and have to try harder before you can come back. A thick view of sin means you run to Jesus, because He is there with open arms. Wasn’t He always the one telling people off who thought they could get to God on their own and pouring out compassion on people who knew they needed Him? Like tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves, and murderers?
Thick sin hurts; deep grace heals. The reason I shut myself in the room with the guitar I couldn’t play is to cry out for grace. I was desperate – for her, for me, for us.
For me, crying for hope meant reading Ephesians 5:25-33 over and over again. The bottom line of my cry was that I had to see how Christ loved me if I were to see to love her in those dark phases. How could I not love her, on the one hand, when she tried to hurt me, since that was simply her way of crying out?! Yet, I am but human. As hard as it was, I needed to learn that my responsibility wasn’t primarily to respond in hurt to her, but primarily to God Himself. I needed to personally be overwhelmed by His grace in order to have any to display to her. (I could write my own novels about grace she’s given to me, but not now;-)
I learned not to be naïvely optimistic. I don’t discount that some people are freed from addicting sin in an instant, but others (e.g. Paul in Romans 7; 2 Cor 12:7-8?) cry out over and over again and may go to the grave without freedom. How can we boast over another who is clinging to Christ, awaiting the day of their freedom?
My thin view of sin was also connected to a thin view of common grace, which is often the case. The doctrine of common grace helps us understand that God is at work to bless people even through the work of those who don’t believe in God. All truth is under Christ’s reign, and my thin views kept us in a Christian bubble. It has since popped. I thought Aubrey’s bulimia problem was simply sin, but she also needed more help at least from doctors and nutritionists. If I had a bigger view of Christ’s reign over every square inch of the universe, then I would have sought more help for her. Maybe her course with all this could have been shortened. God only knows…