Do you have areas of sinfulness in your life that no matter how hard you try you just keep repeating? Have you found that you have specific weaknesses that you have prayed about, and yet you keep falling back into those weaknesses? Have you cried out to God to take a certain temptation away, yet it seems to not leave? Are there sinful habits you just can’t seem to break? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone.
It occurred to me, and I will cite a few examples, that there is a pattern that comprises our flawed human condition. Allow me to refer to it as the “Adam and Eve Syndrome.” Here is my observation. When we are caught in a sin, we all seem to follow a regular pattern. I list them in what appears to be a natural order:
- Deny/Hide/lie: Try to avoid admitting you did it
- Blame: Avoid personal responsibility
- Acknowledge: When it is clear you did it, you finally admit it
- Repent: Say you are sorry, mean it, and intend to quit doing it in future
- Repeat: You find yourself doing it again
All the way back to youth you can see this pattern starting. Let’s assume you tell your 4 year old son Johnny not to get into the cookie jar. When you are not looking, Johnny eats several of the cookies. Later that day you notice that the cookies have been eaten, and you confront Johnny and ask him if he ate them. What is the first thing Johnny and most other children say? NO…..you guessed it. He denies having done it. If you pressed the questioning further, Johnny might blame his sister. (Sally told me I could). Eventually, heowns up to his disobedience and admits he ate the cookie. Does anybody reading this, think this will be the last time Johnny raids the cookie jar? Of course not. He knows right from wrong and he knows he shouldn’t do it but the temptation of the cookie is too much to resist so he becomes a repeat cookie snatcher.
We all know in the story from Genesis 3: 6-13what happened in the garden. Once God confronted Adam and Eve with having eaten the forbidden fruit, they first hid themselves (step one) then Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake (step dtwo). Of course we know eventually they acknowledged their sin, (step three) they told God they were sorry, (step four) and we know that this was not the last time they disobeyed God, (step five). In fact, to this day we carry their sin in our human conditions and we all repeatedly go against God’s will.
Most recently we have seen a demonstration of Adam and Eve Syndrome with the Anthony Wiener story. We have seen the same situation with other public officials, celebrities, and sadly at times even ministers and church leaders. In each case we see all of the steps: deny, blame, admit, repent, and repeat. When someone in the public eye is caught the news media has a feeding frenzy reporting the story as if this person’s behavior is strange or bizarre, but is it?Is the only difference between them and us, the fact that their Adam and Eve syndrome has been made public?
Can the Bible give us some clues into this behavior?
“More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?”
“When the LORD saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil”
“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold into slavery to sin. What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”
Okay, now what about us? Do we habitually avoid helping the poor and homeless and imprisoned even though we know we should? Do we continually gossip about others? Do we repeatedly misuse our time at work or use business things for our personal use even though we know better? Are we constantly coveting the wealth of others who have more than us? Do we year after year cheat on our taxes? Do we constantly harbor anger towards someone? Are we unwilling to forgive someone who has offended us? Do we abuse alcohol or drugs? Are we engaging in sexual behaviors like: pornography, adultery, artificial birth control,masturbation, premarital sex, homosexual sex, sexting, computer sex, or other deviant behaviors?What sin do you keep confessing and repenting from, only to do itover and over and over again?
So is their hope? Can we change? Can we stop, as Paul says, doing the things we know we don’t want to do? Is there really good news? Will God truly forgive this repeated behavior? Again let’s turn to the Bible for some answers.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us.”
“If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing”
“In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace.”
God not only forgives our sins but He completely wipes them out of His memory as if they never existed. We must simply acknowledge our sinfulness. It is through His blood on the cross that He forgave us. He knew of all our sins, even the ones we repeat, before He loved us to death on the cross. In Matthew 18:21-22when He told Peter to forgive seventy seven times and that meant to forgive limitlessly, and that is what He does for us if we confess and ask for His forgiveness. Each time you sin again it is as if it was the first time for that sin since He has already forgotten about all of your past sins. This is not only good news for us but it is also the good news we need to share with others.
Finally if you are suffering and stuck in a sinful pattern that you just can’t break, here are a few suggestions:
- Make regular use of prayer, spiritual readings including the Bible, Spiritual direction, and the Sacraments.
- Do a daily examination of conscience.
- Overcome your pride and humbly understand the fact that we are mutually dependent on one another and seek out an accountability partner and make him/her aware of your struggle. Ask them for help, guidance and prayers.
- If you have tried all of the above, and you are still struggling, seek professional help.
- Always remember God’s grace is greater than our sins.
Lord God you know the desire of my heart to follow you. You also know the difficulties of the flesh. Repeatedly Lord I have turned to you and yet I struggle. Please Lord; help me to understand my thorn. Guide me Lord to the solution to overcoming my sinfulness. But most of all Lord help me never to despair, to always remember your grace exceeds my ability to sin, and to know your blood washes me clean, amen.