“Once, during a particularly hard time for me around a relationship that was ending, she asked me what I was afraid of. I thought and thought, and finally said, “I’m afraid of doing real damage to others. And I’m afraid of being distant from God.” Her response was, “You cannot be close to God and not do damage,” As if to say, to be a human being living a real life, is to do damage. We just will. Even with all the best intentions in the world. And often, we do inadvertent damage to those people who we love the most—which makes it even more painful. Sometimes so painful, we literally cannot bear it.
Nothing will save us from this damage, or protect us from this happening. But we can attend to it, with heart. That’s atonement. Attending to the damage that we cause, as adults. It doesn’t mean that we are bad. It means that we are human. If we just use the softer word “misdeed,” we risk blunting the impact of whatever occurred by saying, well we were coming from a place of love, we had great reasons for what we did, etc. All those things may be true, but softening the language of sin can make everything blurry. If we can find a way to use the word “sin,” perhaps we can more directly drop into the work that is before us, we can more clearly see, we are more squarely hit with the reality of the damage that we have contributed to.”
–Joshua Boettiger, a rabbi for a Jewish community in southern Oregon puts forth a wise plea to take sin seriously.