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Restoration in a Transformational Community 11: Are Sin and Pain Connected?

I teach believers how to identify and deal with their unfinished business. Unfinished business is all the spiritual, emotional and mental baggage we accumulate and continue to carry even after we have confessed Jesus. We do not have to, but in our own power, we cannot help ourselves. Right now we are on the part of the faith journey called sanctification—being saved from the power of sin—which will last until we are in the glorious Father’s presence.

Part of this training involves helping people understand what is in their hearts. I know from my own journey and study of the Scriptures that we have two things in our hearts relevant to why believers get caught in sin. The first is that we have hurt in the heart, pain from the wounding we have received from living in a world of people affected by the Fall. The other is what Paul calls sin in me in Romans 7. Consciously or unconsciously, all of us have comforted our pain with sin, which leads to outward symptoms that distort who we were created to be—the likeness of Jesus.

Sometimes this question comes up: “Is all sin attached to pain or can people just sin because they are sinful?” This question gets at the heart of what we are about in restoration. Why did a believer make the choices he or she did to get to a place Galatians 6:1 calls ‘caught in sin’? Was it because they are just sinful? Or is there a connection between the sin they chose and pain in their hearts?

The simple answer to this complex question is no and yes. When we look at the story of the Fall, we cannot find any indication that Adam and Eve rebelled against God because there pain existed in their lives. This is the ‘no’ aspect of the answer. The origin of sin in humans was out and out rejection of God’s reign over us—we believed we can be our own god over our life decisions. Sin is the outcome of this belief. All sin decisions start here. We choose sin because we prefer sin.

But what does this mean? The Fall signifies that the relationship between the Creator and ourselves is broken. Bereft of God, we lack a clear understanding of why we exist, leading us to pursue emotional relief in whatever form it takes. Yet ultimately, nothing fills the hole in our soul that is reserved for our Creator. This creates spiritual and psychological pain for us, whether we understand it or not. We are like children without an adult to set secure boundaries. We fear. We act out. We turn on each other. All of creation is also under this curse, so it wars on us as well. You can trace the reality of this pain from Genesis to the Revelation.

This is the ‘yes’ aspect of the answer. We will never live in this twisted version of the creation without pain until God makes all things new. Until all sorrows cease, until every tear is dries, even believers have—and will—experience the pain from living in a world of people affected by the Fall. Death, sorrow, misunderstandings, loss, intentional hurts, alienation, brokenness, sickness—on and on go the ways we were and are wounded in this world.

Restorative work recognizes that there is personal pain involved in the believer’s choosing sin over wholeness. It may be buried deep. It may be in plain sight. It could be an ancient wounding. It could be as fresh as their morning coffee. Knowing this truth guides you in seeking to restore someone caught in sin from approaching the person’s sin as the only issue to be addressed.

Steve Smith