Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Passionate Sinning

"The worst sin - perhaps the only sin - passion can commit is to be joyless." - Dorothy Sayers.

I've been periodically haunted by this particular saying since I read it in Gaudy Night as a teenager.  I say haunted because it comes back to me, either in memory or in some random reminder, and each time it hovers before my mind, teasing me to pursue it to its furthest logical ends.

But I dare not, because I am afraid of where it might take me. It's hypocritical of me, I know. I have so often urged my students not to be afraid of the truth and the hard questions that lead there.

Part of me looks at this saying and says, oh yes, that certainly is true. There must be joy in the passion, whatever its object, or passion becomes obsession, possessiveness, exploitation, infatuation and eventually destruction. The object of passion will either be enslaved or become the enslaver and slavery is a hallmark of sin. Joyless passion would be deadly - another hallmark of sin.

But another part of me recoils from the implications of that "only."  Is joylessness the only sin passion can commit? If I do what I know (or believe) to be sin, but I do it passionately and take joy in it - and I'm supposing real joy here, not simply ephemeral pleasure mistaken for joy - does the joyfulness wipe out all the sin? I'm very much afraid, and afraid is not just a figure of speech, that it does not. To do what we know is wrong, even for the right reasons and with fervent, joyful passion...no, I cannot believe that is true because I see in it a license to choose to sin.

Actually, I see a logical loop developing. If joy = not sin, then that might eliminate all sinful passions from the start. If so, then it would be impossible to sin joyfully. Either one would discover that there was in reality no joy in the passion, or one would find that the passion was joyful and therefore not truly a sin.

But what an awful risk that poses to the desiring soul. Sayer's words imply a massive, awe inspiring, knee weakening freedom. It's like being presented with a great cliff and told "Leap into the abyss. So long as you keep a grip on joy, you will land safely." Or is joy rather a signal beacon along a rocky shore dotted with a thousand false lights that present themselves as joy, but are not truly joy? If we are free in Christ to pursue our passions, whatever they are, so long as they are joyful... Where might we go?

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