patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Monday, December 19, 2011

the worst possible sin

Last night I called my sister Joanie to update her on recent developments with our dad’s health. I have not conversed much with her in many years—we inhabit different worlds—but it is my hope to change that.

Joanie and I moved quickly from the subject of our dad to her new passion for the Bible. In particular, for this list of sins in Proverbs 6:16-19, which she found particularly true and important:
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up dissension in the community.
I wasn’t familiar with the verse when she first referred to it; so, since I was sitting at the computer as we talked, I googled around till I found the passage she seemed to be talking about and then read it back to her in the default translation I had open in one of my browser tabs, the TNIV. Joanie translated each item in the list into the wording of her version (she never said what it was and I was never sure: whatever it was, it sounded old-fashioned and included the apocryphal books) as I read, confirming that each one meant the same thing.  

The only sticking point for her was that my translation—and all but two of the twenty or so other versions we visited in the course of our conversation—listed the seven sins as more or less equally abominable, whereas her translation said something more like “and the seventh is an abomination to him” and seemed to highlight the last item in the list as the worst possible sin, singled out by God for special loathing.

Joanie claimed this last sin, the worst sin, as her own. She saw herself as a person who stirs up dissension in the community—or, as her version had it, “discord among brethren.” The NRSV translates it as “one who sows discord in a family.”

In reality, Joanie is as much a victim as a causer of discord in our family—as, indeed, all the rest of us are or have been at various points in our family’s history. It surprised and shamed me that she blamed herself for her suffering at our hands. At mine.

I recognize in myself the first sin—haughty eyes as blind to others’ goodness as to their needs—along with the last. I hope to improve in both areas: to be less dismissive of others and to sow love, not discord, in our fractured family. And, as I have learned from my recovery from PTSD, the first step in correcting a problem, perhaps the only step needed, is becoming aware that it exists.

Such, in any case, was God’s first answer to my dad’s prayer of gratitude for his cancer because it allows him to make peace with his neighbor.