I have thought for some time now that there is a direct relation between unbelief and sinfulness, and that *it runs both ways.*
Thinking about God can be extremely hard when I feel really bad about how sinful I’ve been. When I’ve done something wrong, or want to, I want to avoid thinking about God. Because if I do, I shall see what a disgusting worm I am. And no one wants to face that.
It’s easy to see why shame would make me want to avoid God when I have sinned. The hardest thing of all to admit in our hearts about God is that because his beauty is infinite, even our worst sins are to him infinitely tiny. Whether we know it or not, and whether or not we admit the fact to ourselves, his overwhelming power washes over our sins the way that a great wave washes over the filth a fly has left in the sand of the beach. So, no matter how bad we have been, we can turn to him and he will wash over us, cleanse and refresh us completely.
But this is hard to remember, or understand. Indeed, it is hard to remember *because* it is hard to understand. Our sins loom large in our lives, and we understand the harm we have done – and the cost of its repair – quite well. Infinity being by contrast impossible for us to comprehend, we have a hard time doing the moral accounting involved in reconciling God’s omnipotent redemptive power to our picayune peccadilloes. It’s like expressing inches in light years, or vice versa. Light years just don’t mean anything concretely commensurable to our lives as lived, compared to the distance between two joints of a finger. So, all we can see is the sin, and the penalty thereof; we cannot see the everlasting life beyond its redemption. And so we avoid turning our minds in its direction, or toward God and the agony of his glory.
When we believe in something, we conform ourselves thereto. It shapes our minds, our thoughts and attitudes, and so our acts, and our lives. Because he has a hard time even thinking about God, the sinner, then, has a hard time really believing in God. His shame disinclines him to God; his disinclination to God inclines him to sin; his sin is shameful. It’s a vicious cycle.
But it works the other way, too: the unbeliever is eo ipso a sinner. Indeed, unbelief and sin are two sides of the same coin. For, as sin is enacted falsehood, so is it an explicit enaction of disbelief in the God who is all truth, and the whole of truth. It indicates a want of faith; for, if I really believed in God, and understood him, how could I bring myself to sin – indeed, how could the notion even occur to me? Doesn’t the presence of God in our hearts drive out sin? So, if I am sinning, doesn’t that mean that I have not very much God in my heart?
If my understanding of God is correct, if I really understand what “God” means – not as a philosophical proposition, so much as a concrete proposal for how I should constitute myself from one moment to the next, what I should consider, think, say and do – then won’t the beauty and power of that knowledge drive out all competing considerations? God is *infinitely* beautiful. Nothing else even registers, compared to him. If I really turned and accepted even that bare notion, how could I sin?
If I do sin, then, this means that there is at least some corner of my heart that does not believe in God. It resists him, or else is deeply confused.
My sin tells me that I have not yet truly and fully converted my heart to God. And since the love of God is generated irresistibly by the vision of God, by the apprehension of his beauty, my sin indicates that I have not yet properly apprehended him. I have somehow erred in my apprehension.
We cannot correct the error of our apprehension that enables our sin – or rather, that is to say, *constitutes* our sin – except by turning to face him, opening our eyes and our hearts and letting him in. But because we err, we cannot see where to find him unless we are already facing him – in which case, we are not erring in the first place! So, we are stuck fast in the Sin against the Holy Spirit, the one unforgivable sin that prevents our acceptance of redemption, and therefore effects its rejection.
That’s where Grace enters the picture. God will show us. All we have to do is ask, even though we don’t know exactly what we ask. When we say the Agnus Dei, or the Jesus Prayer, we ask him to show us how and where to turn to him.