Are All Sins Equal?

“The darkest places in Hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”
– Dante Alighieri

I have friends who have told me stories about some dangerous encounters they’ve had with strangers. Many women I know have been approached in public by intimidating men who would give them unwanted attention, even to go as far as trying to manipulate them into doing what they want against their will. In many of these instances, ignoring them is not always an effective tactic in drawing these bozos away. So another option would be to lie to them that they have a boyfriend or a previous appointment they need to attend to. Usually the thought of another dominant and protective male draws a stalker away. But it’s an unfortunate world we live in knowing many women feel they need to resort to lying in order to protect themselves from creepy scumbags.

I may not be able to relate to the experiences of my female friends who have had to deal with this, although I’ve had my share of different encounters where I felt the impulse to lie my way out of an undesirable situation.

Is it worse for a woman to lie to a stalking male out of fear to avoid a possibly dangerous and life-altering situation, or allow her pursuer to take advantage of her? The troubling thing about these types of situations is women are typically blamed no matter what the outcome is. The victimized woman is often viewed as the instigator and the crime of the overpowering male is overlooked. But no matter how we look at it, the rapist is the one committing a worse sin than the victim who was lying to desperately avoid having her life ruined by somebody else’s destructive behaviour.

Another example I can think of is, let’s say the Nazis knock on your door and they ask if you are hiding any Jewish refugees in your home. Knowing exactly where in the house they are hiding, do you lie to them in order to spare their lives? Chances are they would search your house regardless of your answer. If they are found, the Nazis would likely kill them, you and your family on the spot. Would lying be justifiable if there is a chance they will live? Or is it more justifiable to be upfront with the SS and tell them where they are, knowing they will execute the innocent and possibly spare you and your family’s lives?

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way condoning nor justifying the use of lying for anything. The point of this blog entry is to point out not everything is as black-and-white as we might think, and there are situations where we find ourselves choosing a lesser evil in order to do what we believe is right in the moment.

As a new believer in my youth, I was told by my Christian friends that nobody could ever fully obey the Ten Commandments and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Considering how the Bible states that without faith there is nothing we can do to please God (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10, Hebrews 11:6) the general conclusion made by many Christians is all forms of sin are equal. Given this mindset, does this mean lying to your spouse about whether her dress looks fashionable is comparable to mass genocide?

From my understanding, a lie is a lie whether it is a white lie or a damned lie with good intentions or not. As Christians, we are taught to make a conscious effort to avoid all kinds of sin, even at the expense of our own desires. Even if I lied to my wife to spare her feelings, there is no getting around the fact I was dishonest with her. If I can get away with one white lie, how much easier will it become to say an even bigger lie?

Some would say that sin is sin, similar to how a lie is a lie. It makes sense if this is a way to summarize how God hates all sin, but a relativistic approach to the different types of sin seems to leave very little room for moral discernment. There is no ‘chart’ of sins showing which ones are worse, but some of the biblical references I recall that seem to reflect this ideology are:

“If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” – 1 John 5:16-17 NAB

“If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins” – Hebrews 10:26 NAB

Based on these passages in Scripture among others, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that sins are classified into two categories: venial and mortal. A venial sin would be described as an unintentional mistake within a state of grace, whereas a mortal sin is classified by fulfilling 3 qualifications:

  1. It must be a grave or serious matter
  2. It must be committed with full knowledge and awareness
  3. It must be committed with deliberate and full consent

I’ve often heard the argument that there is nothing that could separate us from the love of God because we are justified by faith alone, regardless of whether a sin is venial or mortal. But if sin is what separates us from God, then how is it that those who claim to be already saved by God’s grace can continue to deliberately murder, rape, steal and squander and still consider themselves to be exempt from divine judgement? Is human depravity so far gone that our free will is irrelevant and God chooses favorites? If this is the case, then I feel like this renders God to be more evil than the devil himself because He creates people who are destined for Hell rather than giving us the freedom and spiritual capacity to choose to love Him in return. This is a topic meant for a separate article, but my understanding of the biblical view on human depravity is we are fully reliant on God’s grace for salvation but not completely depraved to the point where our free will is nonexistent.

For the record, I am not suggesting we embrace pelagianism or semi-pelagianism. But knowing Lucifer rejected His grace after experiencing it firsthand, aren’t we faced with a choice on a daily basis whether to sin deliberately or to obey God?

When it comes to labeling different types of sins, it seems to be more for our own benefit rather than for God’s. It uses earthly consequences to magnify the eternal. It definitely helps us to recognize our shortcomings, understand the implications of our actions as well the meaning of grace. Even though God’s love for us is infinite, it is our choice whether we can accept His love and respond to it on a daily basis to enter into a relationship with Him.

In a world so dark and fallen, it is often difficult to recognize what is good. Even though the Bible says that there is none who is righteous, knowing degrees of sin seems reminiscent to measuring a tree by the type of fruit it bears. From a worldly standpoint, we are quick to punish pedophilia over any other type of sexual act to the full extent of the law. But whether or not we are willing to admit it, this alone is proof enough that we all truly believe not all sins are equal.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:10 RSV

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