Each of us has grown up with an inbuilt hierarchy of sins, whether we are aware of this or not. Most of us see murder as worse than stealing, and stealing from widows as worse than drinking alcohol. And, it is on this basis of this order that we decide how sinful we are compared with others.
We use this “sin hierarchy” to judge whether we are more righteous than those around us; and sadly, we can become secure in thinking that God sees it the same way and will therefore judge us on these same standards. Consequently, when we haven’t committed the “big” sins, it makes us comfortable with where we stand in light of eternity.
But, there is a problem with this thinking. That problem becomes clear when you look back into history and see how much this “hierarchy of sins” can change over time.
For example, in Jesus’ day He raised the issue in one of His parables that it was irrational that the priests at the time placed such a high “sin value” on touching a dead body that it became more important than almost anything else. When comparing whether they should help a traveler who had been beaten and left for dead along the roadside, to possibly touching a dead body the priests of the time would go to the other side of the road just to be sure that they didn’t even come close to a dead body; and in doing so they would miss an opportunity to help someone who was not actually dead, but rather just desperately in need of their help.
In our “hierarchy of sins” today, we easily understand that helping the abused should of course be considered as more important than our own physical cleanliness; yet, it was not clear at all that this should be the case 2000 years ago.
Even 150 years ago the values were very different than they are today. One such example is in the time of Abraham Lincoln. He told a story from his youth of hiring a prostitute that cost $5, but he only had $2 to his name, so he left rather than owe her money. She said he could pay her later, but it was more important at that time, and in his eyes, that he be considered as a “good man” who did not owe others, which lead him to walk away. He told the story because it put him in a good light for his time, but somewhere lost in the telling of the story was the notion that “good men” did not hire prostitutes either. You see, in the morals of the time there was such a high value on men paid their debts, that it was considered to be less significant that he might be involved with prostitution. For a lot of men of his day this was considered normal behavior as long as they were unmarried.
Move forward to today’s value system, and we now have little problem with owing other people money. In fact, people speak openly of how much debt they have, and even of when they have walked away from their debts, as if it is not really a big moral issue. Today, we would think it very strange that one would put debt as being a worse evil than prostitution.
Even just a few decades ago, drinking as a Christian was one of the “low” forms of sin. Now, many people in the Church drink without considering it a moral issue at all.
You see we are more creatures of our time than we understand. The problem is when we take our present value system and assume it is the same one that God uses. God has actually told us that all sin is equal, but we don’t really believe that He meant it quite that way.
We think that of course “X” sin is much worse than “Y” and God must also agree. Yet we make this error to our detriment… because in the end it is He that will judge – and not us.
It is the wise who heed His warning.