My wife, daughter, and I ate at a Souper Salad for lunch today. If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically a soup and salad all-you-can-eat buffet. We love eating there because when you leave, you don’t feel as guilty as when you leave a steakhouse having just consumed 3 pounds of thoroughly heated cow carcass. After I had finished my first plate of salad, I went back for more, and I saw they had a salad at the bar called Chicken Chipotle Ranch Salad, which was pre-mixed, had everything I like in a salad (chicken, cheese, olives, strips of tortilla chips, and chipotle ranch dressing…oh yeah, and lettuce…), and looked delicious. I had to try some! I got a plate full, went back to our table and chowed down. After about 4 bites into it, I looked down to find a pretty little ladybug sitting there on one of my leafs of lettuce. It hadn’t just landed there either. It was dead. And it was definitely real. Needless to say, I lost my appetite. But what struck me as a little humorous was what my wife said after I showed her. She said “well, I’d rather find a ladybug in my food than some other kinds of bug. They’re so much prettier…” I can’t help but laugh about this. Are we really going to talk about the varying levels of acceptability of different kinds of bugs we find in our meals at restaurants? Apparently so…
Why do we do things like this? Why do we classify things in levels of importance, levels of offensiveness, or in this case, levels of grossness? I don’t know. But I know I do it all the time. And one area in my own spirituality that I tend to do this the most is with sin. In my frail little mind, telling a small little lie so as not to hurt someone’s feelings doesn’t seem so bad, but lying to someone so that I can take advantage of them seems terrible. Thinking about someone, “dude, you’re an idiot,” doesn’t feel as sin-like as punching them in the face. And failing to honor my parents just doesn’t seem to be as big a deal as mass murder. But I can’t rely on how I feel to guide me into accurate theology – my feelings change based on my circumstances. So what I have to do is take a look at the Bible and get God’s perspective of this whole thing. Because God is completely immutable – he never changes (Malachi 3:6).
So are all sins equal to God? I used to think so. I used to look at only one aspect of it – punishment – and since all since are equal in their punishment (separation from God), I assumed they were all equal in every way. I guess I got this idea from Jesus’ comparison of lust to adultery and hate to murder in Matthew 5. But this is a good lesson in looking at the entire Bible and not just one small part. Here are some examples from scripture that contend with the idea that all sins are equal:
- “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Sexual sins are set apart as different from other sins. They aren’t necessarily called ‘worse’ than other sins, but definitely different.
- “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24). Strain out a gnat but swallow a camel? Jesus is hilarious, even when he’s being serious. Basically he’s telling these guys “you work so hard nitpicking at these small things, but you complete miss the fact that your doing much worse things!” So, gnat = small sins, camel = bigger sins. Small ≠Big. All sins are not equal.
- In John 19, when it describes the conversation between Pilate and Jesus, Pilate asks Jesus ” ‘Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’ ” (v. 10-11, emphasis added). Here, Jesus is comparing the sin of Pilate to that of the Jewish leaders who handed him over to Pilate. He says they are guilty of a greater sin – a worse sin, if you will.
- “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5). Here, Jesus is comparing sins – and using size-imagery again to show how some sins are smaller (specks) than others (planks).
*I got these verses/ideas from this article.
So, as you can see, in their very nature sins are not equal in God’s eyes. God, when giving the law, prescribed different punishments for different sins – thieves paid restitution (Exodus 22), but adulterers were put to death (Leviticus 20). Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Under the new covenant that was forged by the death and resurrection of Christ, punishment for sin is handled much differently. One article I read put it this way:
There are degrees to sin. Some sins are worse than others. At the same time, in regard to both eternal consequences and salvation, all sins are the same. Every sin will lead to eternal condemnation (Romans 6:23). All sin, no matter how “small,” is against an infinite and eternal God, and is therefore worthy of an infinite and eternal penalty. Further, there is no sin too “big” that God cannot forgive it. Jesus died to pay the penalty for sin (1 John 2:2). Jesus died for all of our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21). Are all sins equal to God? Yes and no. In severity? No. In penalty? Yes. In forgivability? Yes.
When I think of God being a loving father, I think that He would mourn with me in the situations I would mourn, to the same degree I would. I would mourn a lot more if a loved one was murdered than if they were lied to. I think God would too – He knows that some offenses are worse than others. He knows that ladybugs are prettier than other kinds of bugs.