If I were to stand in Harvard Square and conduct a survey on the subject of “sin” – asking people, “What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘sin’”? – I would hear quite a variety of answers, from apathy and indifference to strong-held convictions. To hear the word, “sin,” a good many people would probably roll their eyes and talk about the things that you’re not supposed to do or say (things which one is perhaps prone to do or say). Some people would immediately talk about guilt, real or imagined. Some might say that the concept of sin is too over laden with psychological baggage, or with radio preachers’ histrionic rhetoric, or with naïve or impossible standards. Even among Christians there is quite a diversity of opinion on the notion of “sin”: sins of commission and omission, what they are, why they matter, how they get done and how they get undone, that is, forgiven. For a Christian, one’s convictions about “sin” is informed by their interpretation of the Scriptures. (Virtually every page of the Bible has some reference to sin, in one form or another.) In the early 1970s, the great psychologist and clinician Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled, “Whatever Became of Sin,” acknowledging that this notion of sin is as old-fashioned sounding as it is pervasive.
There is a qualifying adjective for sin in the psalm appointed for today, Psalm 19. The psalmist prays, “Keep your servant from presumptuous sins” , also translated, “keep your servant from being insolent.” The word insolent comes from the Latin, īnsolentem, meaning “arrogant,” which is an unwarranted pride or self-importance; a haughtiness. This “presumptuous” qualifier brings some clarity to this subject of sin: arrogance, unwarranted pride or self-importance, haughtiness, a “presumptuous sin.” Now I’ll mention here, as an aside, that the great Boston preacher, Phillips Brooks, said that “all sermons are autobiographical.” For the sake of full disclosure, I want you to know that I can speak with some expertise about “presumptuous sins.”
In the psalm appointed for today there is a phrase which, in my ears, has a certain poignancy. The psalmist prays, “Keep your servant from presumptuous sins”i, also translated, “keep your servant from being insolent.”ii Insolent, from the Latin, īnsolentem, meaning “arrogant,” which is an unwarranted pride or self-importance; a haughtiness: presumptuous sins. Here are two pictures of presumptuous sin, about which I can speak with expertise.