Sin—original sin, cardinal sin, mortal sin, Jesus died for our sins. We’ve all heard about sin. Been told we have sinned. We’ve lived in fear and felt the need for absolution from our sins.

But what is sin…..really? The word’s origins hail from Greek derived from the word hamartanō.  It’s an old archer’s term that means off the mark. 

In short it means—you missed your target, you are off-center and off-base. You did not yet perfect the skill you were taught. It means, you are learning, so try again and try to do better.

When my cousin died from a brain tumor as a child, we all gathered at my grandmother’s house prior to making the trek from PA into Delaware, where she was to be buried. It was a sad time. A trying time and one of great loss.

My most memorable pleasant memory of that time was that it snowed as she was being buried. She loved snow and I saw it as a sign from God that he was with her and us during this time.  It never snowed in Delaware. If I correctly recall they had to import snow plows from PA to plow the roads.

My most unpleasant and to this day a searing memory of that time was when we went to a local church (one that had nothing to do with my cousin’s death and where the pastor knew nothing of her death let alone her family or her) and the sermon that day was on sin. The pastor said that when a child dies that that is God’s curse and punishment upon the family and  a reminder to all humans that he is fierce, vengeful and unforgiving if one displeases him or sins. He would take a child to punish the family.

I was 11. My father himself was a Princeton-educated minister with his own church. He did not speak of sin or God’s wrath such as this pastor did. I was saddened and scared and as a child felt that maybe God made my cousin die due to his displeasure with me or my entire family and bloodline.

Now, many years later and as an adult with my own child, I know in my heart that God would never take the life of an innocent as a means to punish anyone.

People get sick. Even children. People die. Even children. God provides comfort in times of grief. He does not create times of grief. We humans do that one well enough on our own.

So while that pastor based his entire sermon on the concept of sin, I think (especially when one realizes the origin of the word and its meaning in terms of archery) that he was off the mark. My cousin did not die due to a vengeful God punishing a family. She died because at the time medical advances and knowledge did not know how to treat her. We were off the mark technologically at the time. Today she would most likely have survived.

We are also off the mark spiritually if we continue to hold onto the concept that mankind is born into and of sin. I humbly believe that we are all born of love and light and meant as blessings for this world. What happens is that due to circumstances some of us get lost; some of succumb to anger, fear and hate; some of us do bad things. Some of us are way off the mark.

But does that mean redemption is forever lost? Are we incapable of not only personal change but of effecting global change for others and for this realm?

Can we perhaps change both  individually and collectively? Can’t we try again and again and again?  Won’t we with diligent practice, eventually hit the mark? Moses did. He was once a murderer and look how he turned out. Same for John Newton, a former slave runner who penned Amazing Grace.

If they could change, can’t we all? Can’t we find the means and way to transform sin into Namaste?

I began with a word definition—that of sin—I will close with another…Namaste. Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us. Spoken or as a gesture it’s an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another. It means I bow to you and you bow to me.

So rather than sin against one another or miss the mark with humanity, can we instead learn to bow to one another with respect and treat one another as we all are—divine sparks of love, here to serve and bless this world?


  1. Hans-Peter Zimmermann

    Very nice article!
    I believe the concept of sin has been invented by very cynical materialists who realized they could control the masses with it.
    I also believe that the religious fundamentalists are literally the greatest “sinners”. “Sund” is an Old Norse word for separation. And what else do they do than separate God from Mankind?

    • alison

      Great insights Hans-Peter. Thank you. I did not know that about “sund”. That fits right in with my premise that sin means off-the-mark.

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