The other day, I walked into my apartment and my heart sank a little bit. I looked at my desk and it was stacked with letters, papers, and a long to-do list. It’s not a huge mess, but it’s disorderly enough that I could sense it the minute I walked in the room. You know that feeling, right? When things are just out of order enough that you’re not at ease.
Even if we’re not neat-freaks, all of us are just a bit uncomfortable when things are out of order. As it turns out, this isn’t some accidental feature of human existence. It’s actually written into the fiber of our being to long for order and to be displeased with disorder. This is because in God, there is no disorder. God is truly, harmoniously, and simply perfect. Creation, as His handiwork, is imbued with that same order. The Garden of Eden was a reflection of the perfection of the Creator. When Adam and Eve turned in upon themselves and away from God, they broke that original and perfectly ordered communion between Creator and creature. Sin, put simply, is disordered behavior, behavior that does not reflect the ordered way of God. And life outside of God, outside of the Garden, is filled with toil and sadness.
When I was in seminary, I asked an older priest what was the greatest lesson he’d learned in his years of ministry. After a pause, he said, “The most important thing we can tell our people is that sin makes us unhappy.” It’s true. We were made for order, we crave it, it’s our origin. Sin disorders the whole fiber of creation. Wherever and whenever there is sin in our lives, we’re unsettled, ill-at-ease, living disordered lives, and thus unhappy.
As we look around at our world, we also see that sin isn’t a private matter because we are members of the Body of Christ. Anyone living a habitually disordered life is living with an agonized, restless heart. No matter how good someone may be at lying or faking it, eventually the weight of a disordered heart affects others. We see this all over the news in stories of violence and war, financial corruption, sexual abuse, affairs and broken families. These are all just some of the visible fruits of disordered interior lives, situations of communion broken apart by sin.
And they cause a deep sadness within us because we know it’s meant to be otherwise. It’s true: sin makes us unhappy.
But beyond causing that unsettled feeling we call unhappiness, the Scriptures remind us that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:32) It’s often tempting to sugar-coat our faith, and to go so far down the “God’s a nice-guy” road that we start to believe that God couldn’t condemn or judge anyone. God is quite clear throughout the Scriptures that sin is deadly, and unrepentant sin means eternal desolation: check out Matthew 25 and Revelation 21. Strong, perhaps harsh sounding, intimidating language? For sure. But that’s God’s word.
St. Paul continues in Romans 6:32 to say, “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” When God saw our inability to triumph over the disorder of evil in our hearts and our world, He took up flesh to redeem us. Life in Christ means putting aside what St. Paul calls “the old man,” the saddening way of life filled with the disorder of sin. Fundamental to our working back toward order is acknowledging just how disordered our hearts and lives really are, admitting that there’s a mess (and not just on the desk). God comes to us as a rescuer, reaching out to each of us as lost children. His challenging word to us, over and over in the Scriptures, is the wake-up call of His first words in the Scriptures: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
Because there’s a mess in our hearts, there’s a mess in our homes. And because there’s a mess in our homes, there’s a mess in our world. No matter how good our intentions may be, if we’re heading out into the mess without addressing the interior disorder of our own sin, we will not be as effective as the Lord wants us to be. Living the Gospel starts with repentance. Uprooting sin, an ongoing process imbued with God’s grace, is the holy work of restoring the goodness and order that reflects the life of God. First in our hearts, then in our homes, then in our world. With the Lord’s help, especially through prayer and sacraments, it’s the most important work we could undertake. It leads us away from the saddening corruption of disorder that very quickly becomes systemic. And it leads us back into the joy of charity, which is life in Christ.