Tag Archive: sin


When the Rich Young Ruler asked Jesus how to be good, and was told to keep the Commandments, he said that he was doing that already, and asked what else he needed to do.

“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”-Matthew 19:21.

Was Jesus joking, or did he offer the possibility of being perfect? And what does it mean, to be perfect? We answer these important questions, when we are born again, when we sin no more.

As we discussed last time, being perfect doesn’t mean that we’ll dodge unavoidable accidents. We slip, trip, and fall. I spill every time I pour something. But that is not hate (the every-day word for sin). Hate is our choice, our responsibility; we choose to sin. So we can choose to not sin.

“And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”-Luke 6:46.

If we aren’t going to do the work Jesus requires, then how can we claim to be his followers?

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”-James 1:22.

Too long have we remained enslaved by hate, believing ourselves powerless against it, yet claiming that Jesus saved us from our sins, and rid the world of evil. We can’t believe he saved us, while we’re actively sinning. We can’t be with him, and against him. To enter the kingdom of heaven, we must choose.

“He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”-Luke 11:23.

Don’t panic. This is a slow process. We’re addicted to sin, and it’ll take a long time, and a lot of hard work, to kick the habit. Review the steps in mindfulness from Part 1, and stay in God’s presence. We can’t hate, when we’re loving God.

Before Jesus asked the impossible of us, God formed a covenant with his ancestor, Abram. The Lord changed the man’s name, symbolizing rebirth, to Abraham.

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. // Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.”–Genesis 17:1, 5.

We are all fathers of many nations. Whether or not we accept the responsibility, our deeds (good or bad) influence others, who influence others, and so on…until we affect, or infect, the whole world. Our will is insufficient to love all who hate us, or ignore us, and so we shirk the needs of others by hating or ignoring them: allowing the poor to remain poor, the weak to be trodden upon, and the wicked to triumph.

“LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?”-Psalm 94:3.

The answer? As long as we believe it’s impossible to follow God’s will.

Perfect is what I like to call “Bible shorthand.” We take our first step in understanding this daunting concept, by agreeing that God is perfect.

“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler [or shield] to all them that trust in him.”-2 Samuel 22:31.

But we can’t be perfect like God, can we? Keep in mind we aren’t talking about avoiding mistakes, or shooting the basketball into the hoop every time. The Lord is perfect because He is without sin. By its most basic definition, to sin is to be apart from God: to hate, instead of love. God cannot be apart from God.

King David further illuminated this for us, passing along his wisdom, as his descendant Jesus did.

“God is my strength and my power; and he maketh my way perfect.”-2 Samuel 22:33.

Alone, we cannot be perfect. Hatred clouds our judgment. Without God, we sin, since that is what sin means: “without God.” But when we realize how insufficient our will is, that we are alone and unarmed, and facing an army, then we choose. Pride fails us at this point; we must let it go. We are outnumbered, out-gunned, out of luck, and out of time.

“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”-Matthew 6:10.

The kingdom of heaven comes when God’s will is done on earth, that is, by us. So we are born again when our will becomes God’s will. That is how we become perfect.

“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”-Luke 6:36.

Here’s where Jesus breaks down the Bible shorthand into something we can approach and understand. Perfect = merciful. Further, everything God is, is perfect, and whatever we do to serve the Lord, in the way that He wants us to do it (not the way we want) is perfect.

Here are some Old Testament synonyms, courtesy of King David.

Perfect = totally sincere (1 Kings 11:4; 2 Samuel 22:33), completely dedicated (2 Chronicles 16:9). And this Psalm of David further clarifies the meaning:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”-Psalm 19:7.

God’s love converts the soul, and causes us to be reborn, if we’re humble enough to receive it. When we admit our ignorance and weakness, and commit ourselves to loving all things, all people, then we simple human beings become wise.

The apostle Peter adds to our list and understanding.

“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.”-1 Peter 1:15.

Holy is, of course, what God is. Not only that, but the term points us to the Holy Spirit, which Jesus called “the Comforter.”

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”-John 14:26.

To be a comforter to those who are poor, brokenhearted, sick, in prison, in the hospital, friendless, and hopeless is to bring to remembrance what Jesus taught.

And one more synonym rounds out our list.

“…as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”-John 13:34.

Here’s what we have so far, as we contemplate what Jesus asks of us, and will give us, when we surrender our will to God. We are to be totally sincere and completely dedicated. No half-measures.

“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.”-Mark 12:30.

God is love, and love is everything. Give it all. Hold nothing back. To enter the kingdom of heaven is to embrace love; we do this by following Jesus’ teachings. This is a life-changing commitment, a personal covenant, between each of us and God.

Our covenant includes our perspective, experiences, everything that makes us unique. When we surrender, we remain who we are, we lose nothing of ourselves. Rather, our gifts, and our shortcomings, our faults and sins, passions and dreams…We dedicate all of it to the Lord, to life.

So we are completely dedicated, and totally sincere. We are merciful, and love one another. How dedicated, sincere, merciful, and loving should we be?

“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”-Luke 6:36.

How perfect must we be?

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”-Matthew 5:48.

We must be as merciful as God, as loving as Jesus, as holy as the Lord. Now we see how the Rich Young Ruler felt, when he walked away, shaking his head at the thought of surrendering all that he owned.

Take a deep breath.

“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”-Luke 12:32.

I know all this is scary: like a nightmare, where we’re a musician on stage, asked to perform on an instrument we’ve never played; or maybe we’re a casual jogger, who has to suddenly run a 10-mile marathon.

Keep in mind, we’re looking at the end, the goal. To reach perfection, we take one baby step at a time. Review the steps from my mindfulness essays. Keep God with you, or, rather, stay with God.

Also, remember that we aren’t alone in this covenant. Jesus blesses his students.

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer [or allow] you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”-1 Corinthians 10:13.

Temptation is Bible Shorthand for “testing.” It does not mean to seduce or trick, as we use the word today. Now and then, God tests us, to see how well we’ve learned Jesus’ lessons, and to prepare us for more advanced classes.

God will not give us more than we can handle, without also giving us the strength to handle the tests. What does the Lord give us, then?

“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”-Joshua 1:9.

God replaces our fears and anxieties with love and hope. Think of it: no more doubt, worry, regret, or shame. How much of our strength do we channel into carrying these useless burdens? How much stronger will we be without them?

We either sail with the wind, or against it. In the latter, we spend all our energy to accomplish our own will. We fight against nature, refusing to go the way life asks of us. But in the former, the wind is at our backs. We barely have to lift a finger. Everything happens naturally, because we have given ourselves over to nature, to God.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. / For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”-Matthew 11:29, 30.

We think loving people who hate us is impossible, that we can’t live without returning their hate. Actually, love is the easiest thing in the world to share. What makes Jesus’ teachings so seemingly difficult is that we’re required to be like him; I don’t mean godly, immortal, or performing miracles; I mean meek and lowly in heart.

Pride is our ultimate defense mechanism: a small animal growling, to scare a larger predator. We are small creatures. Jesus asks us to see ourselves for who we really are. This is the difficulty. Once we surrender our pride, the wind is at our backs, and God is with us.

“And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.”-Deuteronomy 31:8.

With God, we no longer need to hate, or take revenge, or judge others. We are no longer jealous and bitter, or, therefore, anxious and depressed. We love, because the Lord rights all wrongs.

“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”-Leviticus 19:18.

When we surrender pride, we rip hatred up by the roots, and throw that vile weed (and all of its effects) into the furnace. Leave these volatile emotions to the Lord; vengeance happens by His time table, not according to our limited, selfish desires, but by His infinite wisdom.

“To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.”-Deuteronomy 32:35.

Nature is balance; and the Lord is nature. We do not have to carry the burden of ill will. Instead, with God, all we have to do is be at peace, and love one another.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33.

Remember the world is not evil. The world doesn’t betray us, or hate us for our weakness, trying to devour us at every turn. We people hate; we are responsible for what happens. We cause tribulation in our futile attempts to overcome the nearly 8 billion other people.

Since that is so, we can, instead, bring good cheer. Breathe in the sin of others, and breathe out the love of God; inhale the false, exhale the truth. Make every breath count toward the betterment of all. That is the only way we win: not by seeking our desires, which is an endless and impossible task, but by joining the choir of life. Sing your hearts out.

“I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee. / It is he that giveth salvation unto kings: who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword.”-Psalm 144:9, 10.

We don’t have to hate ourselves and others. We can sing a new song. Join with God, with nature, and all things. When we love His world-the trees, rocks, animals, the sky, the earth, and each other-then we can draw strength, courage, and love from everything around us.

This is the covenant that Jesus offers: not eye for an eye, but love in return for love; hope, for hope; salvation, for salvation. The Promised Land is ours for the taking!

Behold the wisdom of Solomon, another of Jesus’ ancestors:

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. / In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. / Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear [or revere] the Lord, and depart from evil.”-Proverbs 3:5-7.

We cannot be perfect in every way, but we can love perfectly. We cannot overcome the world, but we can defeat hatred. We cannot forge our own heaven on earth, but we can join the kingdom of heaven, by following God’s will-doing what’s right for all, not some, not just you or me, but feeling love for everyone, everything. This is who we are.

Loving, when we’re used to hating, will not be easy; Jesus promised that it would be like carrying a cross. Be patient. Breathe. Inhale sorrow; exhale peace.

“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. / But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”-James 1:3, 4.

Inhale sorrow; exhale peace. Make every breath count for everyone. This is God’s breath: divine life, the word that has always existed, even before existence, itself. And that word is love.

To be born again is to give all we have to God, to love all, and hate nothing. When we are without hate, then we sin no more. Our love is God’s love for Jesus, which is his love for us.

“At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.”-John 14:20.

And that is the perfect love, the perfect life, the way, and the truth. May the Lord bless and keep you. Amen.

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I first learned of mindfulness meditation, a Buddhist practice, from an atheist friend, whose journey of practical and provable spirituality is a source of inspiration to me.

The idea is that we don’t spend much time in the present. When faced with a problem, we look to the past for old, known solutions, and to the future for possible ramifications. And since we’re always facing problems, then our minds are never (or rarely) focused on what we’re actually doing.

When applied to Christianity, I realized that this makes us susceptible to sin. If we aren’t paying attention to what’s here and now, then how can we see the love that’s here and now? All we see is the pain of yesterday, and the anxiety of tomorrow.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”—Luke 23:34.

I don’t know what I’m doing, because my eye isn’t on the ball.

Over the past few months, I’ve developed a series of meditations that keeps me focused on the present, on the love and connection between all things—which is the practical way I think of God.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—I John 4:8.

My first step was to forgive every sin that I encountered.

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: / But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”—Matthew 6:14-15.

It doesn’t take theft or murder to be a sin. The little things pile up. The longer people go unforgiven in our hearts, the heavier and darker our hearts become. We have to take out the trash.

I never realized how many small, annoying sins there are.

I live in North Carolina, where they love their big pickup trucks. In my apartment parking lot, I’m ready to back out of my space, but I can’t see. The trucks are blocking my view.

This may seem like nothing, a small source of annoyance, that some people would block the view of other drivers, so that they could raise themselves higher. But it creates darkness in me; I have to get it out of there.

So I forgave the pickup drivers, and the person speeding through the parking lot, who almost hit me as I edged blindly from my space. Then I forgave the person who invented speed bumps, and those who thought it was a good idea to place them throughout my apartment complex.

I forgave the people who wouldn’t move to the inside lane, so I could merge onto the four-lane road. I certainly had to forgive whoever decided to put a blinking stoplight for a left-hand turn at a busy intersection.

All of that sounds really petty. And maybe it is. A drop of water isn’t going to drown me. But if that drop is joined by others, and I don’t allow any of it to drain, then, eventually, I will drown.

I felt silly, though, forgiving everyone of everything. But I knew those small, selfish infractions were bugging me. By facing this, I realized that my annoyance was a testament to my weakness. I’m the one who needed to be forgiven, because I judged all those people for doing what comes naturally.

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.”—Luke 6:37.

For my second step, I kept forgiving everyone, but I also forgave myself. So much forgiveness! It was overwhelming. I could barely keep track of it all. But it kept me in the moment. I felt God’s presence smiling at my audacity to acknowledge every sin, no matter how logically insignificant, beaming as I realized that I was the sinner, and urging me toward the next step.

This was how it went:

I forgive you; forgive me. I forgive you; forgive me. And so on.

The exercise taught me that we are not just connected by love, but sin as well. No matter how different we are, we all have love and sin in common.

I don’t sin much when I’m alone though. When no one is around to bug me, I’m a perfect angel. So, as I walked and prayed late at night, down the sidewalks in my apartment complex, I had no one to forgive. That’s when I took the third step in mindfulness meditation.

“…and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”—Matthew 28:20.

God is always there, no matter where we are. God was with the frog that hopped across my path, the leaf that fell, the crickets and their chorus, my heartbeat, the phase of the moon, feel of the air, etc.

I spoke that mantra for everything I saw: God is there…and there, and there—in the numbers on that license plate, the sound of my footsteps, everything. It quickly became my favorite meditation. I can do it at any time, for a few seconds, minutes, however long I need to remind myself that God is always with me, everyone, and everything. And that led me to my final (or current) steps.

I took that acknowledgement of the omnipresence of God, and applied it to other people. God is with that pickup driver, that person who invented the speed bump; and God is with me and you.

“…your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”—Matthew 6:8.

I don’t need to ask God to be with me. I don’t need to ask God for anything. All I need to do is acknowledge that God is with me, and accept the responsibility of conscience and compassion that comes with that protective presence.

I stayed in the moment, then, by acknowledging that God was everything I saw. It’s hard to hate someone, or be annoyed by them, once you realize that Heaven is in them, just as it is within you.

“…for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:21.

Mindfulness meditation is acceptance of the moment, love of the present. It’s not about us asking for God’s blessing, but acknowledging that the blessing has already been given.

Legion Part Two

As I study the gospels, I realize more and more the importance of Isaiah. Everything Jesus did was to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecies.

“But John [the Baptist] forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? / And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.”—Matthew 3:14-15.

From the beginning, Jesus fulfilled prophecies by healing the sick and casting out devils.

“And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.”—Matthew 4:24.

But why did he heal the sick? What did that have to do with saving people from their sins? Yes, it was a show of compassion; and that alone was reason enough. Yet it wasn’t something he did in passing, on the way to accomplish his main goal. Rather, the healing of the sick was his goal.

When he sent out his apostles, as sheep amidst the wolves, he told them, “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.”—Matthew 10:8.

Even after a long day, he was always ready to cleanse people of the evil within:

“When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: / That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.”—Matthew 8:16-17.

We’re told why he healed the sick in that last verse: He did it to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy. But that’s not all. Isaiah was the one who explained Jesus, painting a picture of him that reminds me of the people he cleansed, especially Legion.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. / Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. / But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”—Isaiah 53:3-5.

Jesus wasn’t accepted by the established authorities. Instead, he was born in a manger (Luke 2:7), prophesized by John the Baptist, who lived in the desert and ate locusts (Mark 1:6), rejected by his own townspeople (Mark 6:3), and crucified by those he came to save.

This makes me wonder about my tendency to not only reject evil, but good as well. I live in the middle, wavering between compassion and sin—both, mainly, when it suits me. I feel as justified in sin, as I do when I am noble. I don’t want to surrender my way of living, my choice. This is why the townspeople rejected Jesus and Legion.

“And when [Jesus] was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, / who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: / Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.”—Mark 5:2-4.

This is Legion’s time in the wilderness. When Jesus was isolated for 40 days and 40 nights, he had God with him, or, rather, he was with God: I think that’s an important distinction.

God is infinite, because God is all things, within and without. So God is always there: with you, me, the animals, the trees, and so on. It’s just that sometimes we are not with God. At that point we are sinning.

Jesus showed what that time in the wilderness is like when one has compassion. He went to the desert to find God; Legion went to get away from people. Or maybe they drove him out; the story is unclear on that point.

We do know they tried to put Legion in chains.

“Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him.”—John 18:12.

But they couldn’t tame him.

“But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marveled.”—Mark 15:5.

So Legion went to the wilderness.

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”—Matthew 4:1.

The big difference, as noted, is that Legion “…was driven of the devil into the wilderness.”—Luke 8:29.

This is where sin comes from; it is when we remove ourselves from God, when we ignore the connection we have to everyone and everything, and the responsibility of compassion that comes with this familial bond. While in the wilderness, Jesus put his faith in love; Legion chose fear.

“And always, night and day, [Legion] was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.”—Mark 5:5.

I’m reminded of the Revelation, after the opening of the sixth seal:

“And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; / And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.”—Revelation 6:15-16.

And that reminds me of Adam and Eve:

“And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.”—Genesis 3:8.

Jesus did not go into the wilderness to hide from love and compassion, but to seek it; Legion went there to deny it. And when we have denied love, committed this ultimate crime of the soul, then we can’t stand to acknowledge our weakness. So we hide, even from ourselves.

“But when [Legion] saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, / And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.”—Mark 5:6-7.

This was the first time (in the book of Mark, at least) that Jesus was called the Son of God. How odd that someone so full of pain and self-loathing, as Legion, was the first to recognize this miracle.

“In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.”—Luke 10:21.

That’s one of my favorite verses. Those who have compassion are able to accept the sins of others, as Jesus did when he took on the sins of the world.

“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”—John 1:29.

And those who live in darkness can see the light a mile away.

Legion begged Jesus not to torment him because Jesus had said, “Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. / And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.”—Mark 5:8-9.

We are many, we human beings. There are over seven billion of us. We all want the sustenance we need to feed our sensations. Sometimes others must starve so that we can feast. When we allow our advancement to degrade others’ quality of life, we have sinned. It’s a double-edged sword: I get cut, or you do. Is it any wonder that we can’t help but sin?

“Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. / And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.”—Mark 5:11-12.

This is an amazing passage that shows the symmetry of Jesus and Legion.

“But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.”—Leviticus 16:10.

The pig is considered an unclean animal in Judaism. Their Passover sacrifice was either a goat or a lamb.

“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; / But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”—I Peter 1:18-19.

This is about acceptance. Jesus accepted the sins of the world. When we don’t accept the sins of others, when we refuse compassion, and choose to put our faith in fear, then we have sinned.

Legion did not accept (or forgive) the way others treated him. He broke his connections and isolated himself. He suffered suicidal ideation and extreme depression as a result. The very presence of one who embodied compassion tormented Legion.

If we aren’t careful, we’ll grow accustomed to our pain, and learn to feed off of it, until nothing else satisfies us. At that point, like Legion, we’d prefer to live in the tombs, in the wilderness, with the unclean swine.

“And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.”—Mark 5:13.

I’m reminded of Moses:

“And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.”—Exodus 14:28.

And Noah:

“And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.”—Genesis 7:23.

And, ultimately, God:

“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”—Genesis 1:2.

Even in the worst of times, we can choose compassion. We can choose to do to others as we would have them do to us, instead of doing to them what they did to us. Forgiveness destroys sin like a great flood. This is the wrath of God, which drowns the legion of sins within us, leaving only the inner love, the center of our being, the great ark of our lives.

“And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. / And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.”—Mark 5:14-15.

The man who had the legion—and I like that phrasing—was healed! But, in a strange twist, we see that “the devils” went out not only into the swine, but the townspeople as well. They had rejected evil, but now, out of fear, they rejected good as well.

“And they began to pray [Jesus] to depart out of their coasts.”—Mark 5:17.

Would you really want to have the ultimate in good role models around you all the time? What about when you felt the need to flip off that rude driver, or have a beer (or 12), or not tell the cashier that they’d charged you too little? We want to be free to sin when we deem it appropriate; I sure do, at least.

This is what makes us susceptible to sin. We are never evil all the time, day after day. I am good one minute, thoughtless the next. Sometimes I know that I’m being a jerk. And I go right ahead. But I am also noble and courageous when the situation demands it, or when I feel like it. So the thought of pure good or pure evil is so impossible in my perspective, that I’m likely to reject both.

Yes, this means that I can, now and then, reject what is good…because it creeps me out. That’s why Jesus’ fellow Nazarenes rejected him, and why the people of this Legion story were afraid of Jesus, and wanted him to leave.

The reason we sin is because we exercise the right to reject what is good. Sin can be cast out, even though it’ll hop into the next available person. Of course, it doesn’t need to hop; it’s always there…but so is God.

People don’t need to express compassion in order for us to feel it. Instead, we feel it when we choose to.

We must remember that the perspectives of good and evil are just that, perspectives. They come from us. Our big brains are always working, defining, judging, and looking for loopholes, understanding, and forgiveness for that which we can’t help but do.

Legion Part One

To understand love and forgiveness, I think it’s necessary to meditate on what sin is, and where it comes from.

“And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”—Genesis 3:13.

We are tempted to sin, mesmerized by evil. Temptation is continuous. No matter how good or careful we are, eventually we surrender to it, or indulge in it. Still, as Jesus told the adulterous woman, after saving her from being stoned by the mob: “…go, and sin no more.”—John 8:11.

I have to believe that sin can be identified, resisted, and, perhaps, extirpated entirely. This possibility was illustrated by Peter the apostle walking on water, until his faith wavered.

“And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. / And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. / But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.”—Matthew 14:28-30.

This is one of my favorite scenes in the gospels. It’s a remarkable, miraculous thing done by a human, not by Jesus—at least not directly. The scene symbolizes the importance of faith, and the difficulty in maintaining it. I also can’t help but see it as an example of what we might achieve with practice. We can’t walk on water. But we can choose, when faced with a storm at sea, to put our faith in love, to remain compassionate. In this way, I believe it is possible to overcome sin.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33.

Jesus was able to overcome the world, because he accepted the sins of others. That’s the key. Acceptance is faith in action. And I must accept that the sins of the world will overcome me, if I try to fight them, take an eye for an eye. It’s an impossible fight without love and acceptance. I’m outnumbered 7 billion to 1. It comes down to human nature: man’s greed vs. God’s ideals, lust vs. love.

As Jesus said to Peter: “…Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.”—Mark 8:33.

While the world of God (which is love) and that of men (which is sin) appear to be distinct, Jesus also said this: “…The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: / Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:20-21.

So if the things of God exist within us, and, certainly, the things of men are crafted by us, then where does evil come from?

To define “sin,” I look to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). I propose this simplified summary: Don’t be a jerk. Whenever I’m mean or snooty, dismissive or short-tempered, I have sinned.

In the Bible, sin and temptation are symbolized by Satan and his devils. While I find numerous references to them, it’s seldom that they appear and speak. And while they are symbols, I think it’s important to meditate on whether or not they are also the source of evil, or if we are. If evil comes from us, our greed, then maybe we also hold the cure. If it comes from the Devil, then it’s out of our hands.

“Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”—Genesis 3:1.

While this is generally thought of as Satan’s introductory scene, he isn’t mentioned by name. Instead, he’s referred to as another beast of the field. The metaphors are all there: serpent, beast, and temptation. But it’s missing the basic, dramatic component of identification. If the serpent isn’t a specific entity, then it is just an idea, a tool, and an abstraction—which points us back to the importance of the human beings in the creation story.

The serpent was able to trick Eve by telling her what she wanted to hear.

“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”—Genesis 3:5.

We want to be gods. We want power over others so that the world can be made to match our perception of it, so that we don’t have to change.

The next verse doesn’t show the serpent doing anything further to tempt Eve.

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”—Genesis 3:6.

The serpent wasn’t even mentioned. We are the origin of sin. It isn’t thrust upon us. We choose. It is our will, our honor, or the lack thereof that allows for sin, creates it so that we might exercise power over the world.

Satan first appears by name in the Book of Job.

“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. / And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”—Job 1:6-7.

He doesn’t show up again, by name, until the Revelation. The rest of the time, evil is shown by the actions of sinners, those who act according to the world of men, not the kingdom of God.

Those possessed by devils are the most compelling examples of this representation through action. But even their stories are only hinted at, referred to in passing.

“And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, / And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils.”—Luke 8:1-2.

And though Jesus refers to the source of his temptation in the wilderness by name (“…Get thee hence, Satan…”—Matthew 4:10), the narrative text does not.

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”—Matthew 4:1.

The lower case use of devil doesn’t indicate a proper noun. And, as discussed in one of my former essays (In the Wilderness Part Two), the forty days and forty nights of temptation that Jesus experienced could be interpreted as inner temptation, i.e., not coming from without.

Jesus even addressed Peter as Satan in the previously quoted verse from Mark 8:33: “Get thee behind me, Satan….”

The Bible’s message can be tricky. It’s easy to take a verse out of context, consider that to be the truth, and meditate no more on it. This is one of the most frightening examples: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”—Exodus 22:18. It was the basis for the Salem witch trials.

Likewise, consider this next verse.

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!”—Isaiah 14:12.

And it goes on from there, describing what was echoed in the Revelation about Satan’s origin story.

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, / / And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”—Revelation 12:7, 9.

Isaiah was writing about the tribes of Judah being freed from Babylon.

“And it shall come to pass in the day that the Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve, / That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon….”—Isaiah 14:3-4.

But, being Isaiah, the story takes a surreal turn.

“Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon saying, Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us.”—Isaiah 14:8.

So the trees are singing to God, celebrating the release of the Jewish people from slavery. Then things get really weird.

“Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming; it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.”—Isaiah 14:9.

So the trees are singing; the dead are rising—not just the dead, but deceased kings. And they have something to say to God and, more directly, the Jews.

“And they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us?”—Isaiah 14:10.

The dead are the ones speaking. This is an important thing to note, as only one verse remains until we get to the supposed origin of Satan.

“Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms, cover thee.”—Isaiah 14:11.

That’s just more of the dead kings speaking to the Jews, who have been brought down to the dead’s level of humility. I put a period at the end of the quote, but, in the Bible, a comma is used; this indicates that the next verse, which ostensibly addressed Satan, the fallen angel, is really more of the dead kings talking to the Jewish people…as the trees rejoice.

See what I mean? Tricky. While appearing to describe an angel who fell from God’s grace, the Bible uses the various names (Satan, Lucifer, serpent, tempter, etc.) as a title, a signifier for those who sin. Again, this is about the people who are sinning; they (or, more appropriately, we) are Lucifer.

Peter was called Satan because he protested that Jesus must die. He didn’t know that Jesus had to die to save us from our sins. We are often ignorant of the big picture, which is why we need faith.

“And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. / And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.”—Mark 8:31-32.

It was for this lack of faith that Jesus answered Peter’s rebuke by saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan.”—Mark 8:33.

When I lose my faith in love, that compassion will lead me to what is best, and not self-interest, I have lost my faith in God. When faced with the choice of doing what I know to be right or being a jerk and doing what I feel is justified due to my indignation, I must have faith in whatever path I choose. This is the faith that can move mountains.

And if this faith is not impeded by a supernatural force, then I am all that stands between my soul (i.e., the child within), and the kingdom of Heaven that is also within.

We are left with only one story that actually shows possession by evil, instead of just referring to it, one story to help define sin as (possibly) something other than man’s actions.

“And [Jesus] asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.”—Mark 5:9.