Friday, November 18, 2011

Missing the Mark

Last month I heard the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright speak, and the experience engaged me on several levels. It is always inspiring to see a gifted person deliver a message on a topic he or she is passionate about. It was encouraging in this specific case to observe and listen to someone who has labored in the realm of ideas so long and so seriously.

A couple friends asked what the main take-away was for me, and in trying to answer them I kept returning to something Wright said about sin. During the question and answer time someone asked about how the church can maintain a proper focus on personal and societal sin. Wright responded like he does often in his writing—not by answering a question exactly, but by reframing it and thus addressing a more fundamental issue. He said that we ought to think of sin as “missing the mark,” like an arrow shot at a target but fallen short. At least one facet of sin can be described this way: it is the thing that keeps us from the mark of living fully as human beings. The way to not miss the mark is to worship the God who became incarnate on the earth, and in his life, death, and resurrection stands as the True Human.

I like this perspective because it brings clarity to some of our muddled constructs and terminology. If we always categorize sin into the personal kind and the societal kind, we start to think there are two different problems that we deal with in different ways. We enact some sort of cathartic private confession to deal with the first, and we attend big rallies or street protests to combat the second. But the idea of missing the mark doesn’t allow these distinctions to cut so deeply into the real theological issue. Rather, it places Jesus right at the center and orients everything on the spectrum toward him. This seems like a good posture to aim for in our scholarship and in the whole realm of our conduct (personal and collective). I am grateful to Dr. Wright for his insight.