Grace and the Sin Tent
(blog post by Rob Fennell)
In a sermon I heard him preach in 2014, Paul Hutchinson, former director of the Corrymeela Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland, told the story of trying to figure out what it means to say, “God forgets our sins.”
He decided to do a public art installation, featuring a large tent with a sign that read, “inside is the list of your sins that God has recorded.” Inside, the visitor discovers that the “lists” are completely empty.
Not everyone was prepared to see this. Some rejected it because they felt very guilty for the wrong they had done and were sure that God was holding it against them.
Others refused to go into the tent because they didn’t want to see a list of their sins.
And some wanted to go in to see the long list of sins that other people had committed, then were disappointed to see the slate wiped clean.
It all comes down to grace.
God’s forgiveness is real, and freely given. We don’t earn it; we can’t earn it. God’s love for us is unmerited. There are no lists (in heaven or anywhere else) that God is keeping, waiting to confront us later with our sins.
In a sermon on Isaiah, Calvin wrote, “every day, [God] offers us this treasure so that we might rejoice in it. [God] declares that Jesus Christ who was pierced in the side today opens his heart to us so that we might be certain of the love he bears for us. And that Jesus Christ who had his arms fixed to the cross now extends them to draw us to him. And [God] wants all these things to benefit us.”
Calvin continues: “And having confessed our poverty and disorientation let us not doubt that [God’s love] will suffice to give us such a remedy [to sin] that we will be able to conclude that we are received and recognized by God as [God’s] own children … righteous and perfect[.]”
Grace is the thing. The God who is love breathes grace and forgiveness into all things and all people: even you, even me; inside the tent and outside it; no matter where we are or where we have been or what we have done.
Rob Fennell teaches theology and the history of Christianity at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is Chair of Touchstone’s Editorial Board.