Sin Is More Than ‘Missing the Mark’

Sin Is More Than ‘Missing the Mark’

It has often been said that sin is “missing the mark.”

As thumbnail definitions go, it’s a pretty good one. In the New Testament, the Greek word harmatia is most often translated as sin. And it’s a term that was used in contemporary literature to describe an archer missing his target. 

So in that sense, to sin is to miss our moral target. And try as we might, we miss the target more than we hit it. 

But it’s also much more than that. Because to say that I missed the target is to assume that I was even aiming for it. In many cases—in my own life and in the lives of every person who has walked the earth—we draw our bow in the exact opposite direction. 

We were not trying to hit the target and failed. We succeeded at casting our arrow toward an entirely different mark. As a preacher once said, “There is a difference between falling into sin and diving into it.”

So what is sin, really? 

In a certain sense, sin is less defined by what it is as by what it’s missing. Sin, at its heart, is the absence of God’s goodness. Sin, as theologian Cornelius Plantinga puts it, is “culpable shalom-breaking.” 

Shalom is a word that means “peace.” But not merely in the sense that there’s no active conflict. In Plantinga’s words, shalom is “the way things are supposed to be.” When God created the world, he created it with a certain internal integrity. Every piece of creation fit together in perfectly harmonious relationship to all the others. Ecosystems hummed. Humanity was at peace with nature, with itself, and with God. 

Sin ruptured that harmony—that shalom. Sin is fundamentally relational, not performative. It puts us at odds with God, with ourselves and each other, and the very creation itself. 

“In sum, shalom is God’s design for creation and redemption; sin is blamable human vandalism of these great realities and therefore an affront to their architect and builder,” writes Plantinga. 

To St. Augustine, sin could be described as “humanity curved in on itself.” In other words, sin is the result of us having disordered our love for God and self, neglecting God’s goodness to turn inward toward our own selfish desires. 

The further we curve inward, the more deformed we become. And the more deformed we become, the more inward we turn. 

Sin is something we do. Even more so, it is simply our state of being.

Sin and the resulting deformity are a result of our privation of God’s goodness. They are the withdrawal from our relationship with God. Sin is the representation of all that we lack by virtue of rejecting God. It’s a distortion of our original design.

“An evil will is not natural but unnatural because it is a defect,” writes Augustine.

And theologian Matt Jenson summarizes it this way: “[Evil] reflects an inordinate love and a misdirected will, a love and will which give undue emphasis to man, setting him up in the place of God.”

“A perversion of our constitutive relationality results,” Jenson continues, “so that in inclining towards ourselves and away from God, we first paint a distorted picture of our relation to God by pretending that the relationship does not exist.”

In so doing, we “seek to entice or force others to also…move out of God’s orbit and into ours.”

So if sin is to break shalom—the integrated peace between God, humanity, and creation—then we must view righteousness in opposite terms. 

When the Bible speaks about righteousness, our minds often harken to a sense of personal piety and individual morality. A righteous person is someone who prays and reads their Bible a lot, never says a cuss word, always pays all their taxes, and never so much as j-walks.

But while those things might be a part of a righteous lifestyle, they do not strike at the heart of what righteousness is

Righteousness is the process of being restored into a right relationship with God and others. It is the reordering of our love for God and humanity. It is the restoring of our souls. It is the process by which we address the malformities that have resulted from our inward turn, so that we might once again walk upright, look up and look out. 

The gospel then is not merely that we have been declared “not guilty” in an eternal court of law—although we have. But the gospel is that we have been reconciled to God and each other. We are in the process of walking that reconciliation out. And we look to eternity when that reconciliation will be fully realized. 

We will again have shalom with God, each other, and the whole of creation. Everything will once again be the way it is supposed to be.

This is the message we preach and the process of discipleship we undertake. 

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come,” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us,” Paul continues. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus, whose love has always been perfectly ordered, who never curved in on himself but from eternity past has perfectly loved and has been perfectly loved, took on human flesh to walk among those living in a disordered world separated from God. He suffered the ultimate consequence of our sin—death—and hollowed out its power through his resurrection.

All this he did so that we could finally return to a right relationship with God and others. To become everything we were meant to be. To finally find shalom. Not only so that we can perfectly hit the mark, but so that we can experience the riches of his love.