Sin and the Sopranos

Don’t read this if you like the Sopranos and are planning to watch the finale someday. I won’t give away much, but I would hate to ruin it for anyone.

I don’t know if any of you are Sopranos fans, but if any of you saw the finale you’ll know that mobster Tony Soprano doesn’t seem to be receiving much of a direct comeuppance for his many, many appalling sins. I found that awfully frustrating, and it led me to think a bit about sin, which I promised I would post about.

Obviously, when you’re agnostic, the business of sin and hell is less concrete. That doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally embrace the idea of hell, or at least the hope of it. I think it would be really lovely if certain folks who have offended God and the whole world with their cruelty had the same kind of hideous experiences waiting for them that they had inflicted on others in their lives. But I don’t know if they do, and that makes it complicated to think about the concepts of sin and forgiveness.

For example: Hitler needs forgiveness. Duh. Jeffrey Dahmer needs forgiveness. Jim Jones needs forgiveness. Alcoholic fathers and mothers need forgiveness, although they also need support and help to stop their bad acts. But how do they work together? Does forgiveness excuse or merely attempt to heal what can’t be undone? And how does religion really factor in? Does it make you feel forgiven, or does it actually give you the forgiveness you can’t give yourself?

In a comment some time ago, someone suggested that I need Jesus to forgive the sins I’ve committed, because we have all sinned and we all need forgiveness for those sins. But why? Because I’m not sure I believe in hell, the idea of forgiveness of sins committed doesn’t have the same resonance as it would otherwise. If I need to be forgiven in this life so that I don’t have hell in my next, then forgiveness becomes merely a way to get the black marks off of my cosmic report card. If my sins are such that I deserve hell (lying to my mother about whether or not I eat breakfast? being proud that I was able to weed my yard and plant some new grass all by myself?), then God’s got himself a hair trigger temper. I’ve never bought the idea that the least of our sins is important enough to offend God, any more than any of us would thunder and smite when a child who doesn’t know better whacks another on the head with a spoon.

I can buy that I need forgiveness for my sins in order to be a better person in this life. If we all pursued that, we’d probably have a much easier time getting along. But that’s hardly religious; that’s just practical and nice in a secular kind of way. So what’s the answer? What do I really need, and why do I need it, in the matter of whether I ask God to forgive my sins?


2 Responses to “Sin and the Sopranos”

  1. 1 Glenn June 27, 2007 at 1:49 am


    You asked some excellent questions. I am not sure that I can answer them, but I would like to explore them with you. So, I will try to break this down just a bit.

    Sin is not just actions or words; it is also a heart issue. Jesus dealt with this in a unique way by condemning some very proud religious types who prided themselves in being more righteous than most people. Instead of just talking about adultery, he talked about lust. Instead of talking just about murder, he addressed hate.

    On another occasion when a woman was caught in the act of adultery and dragged out to be stoned, he suggested that whoever was without sin lob the first rock. The crowd dissipated with no stones being thrown and he extended grace and forgiveness to the woman. The point is that sin is not just an issue for really bad people and Jesus extends forgiveness and grace to those who acknowledge their sin.

    Forgiveness does not excuse or minimize sin. Unless there is sin, there can be no forgiveness. Christ’s death on the cross and the terrible consequences that we have witnessed as a result of bad decisions whether by others or ourselves shows us that sin is very costly.

    Forgiveness is an important part of healing, but, as you pointed out, it is not the only component. Help, support, and tough love are often an important part of the healing as well.

    In most religions there is some sort of penance to be paid for sin. With Jesus, we acknowledge that his sacrifice for the sins of mankind is the basis of all true forgiveness. In other words, if he could forgive us, we can forgive others. So, it is not a matter of feeling forgiven, but really being forgiven and being able to forgive others. That doesn’t mean that Jesus followers don’t ever struggle with guilt or with bitterness. It just means that we keep coming back to the reality of the way that Christ forgives.

    You raise a good point… Would we need to be forgiven (and forgiving) if there were no hell and no reason to be concerned about black marks on our cosmic report card? I think we would, if we were concerned about reflecting the character of Christ in our lives and in our relationships with God and other people.

    Does God have a hair-trigger and does he smite people for minor infractions. If that were true, I believe there would be a lot more lightning strikes hitting people. But we also get into the whole concept of a holy God and just how tolerant a holy God can be of un-atoned sin.

    You definitely caught the practical side of things in that practicing forgiveness would help us be a better person and have an easier time getting along.

    This is a long comment, though I feel that I have just scratched the surface of some of these issues. I would be happy to discuss them with you further, if you like.

  1. 1 Sin Questions « re-dreaming the dream Trackback on June 27, 2007 at 2:44 am

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