Recently, I discussed sin with a friend and whether or not Christians can “choose” not to sin… to achieve a life without sin, despite living in a sinful world, by becoming one with Christ. I argued that this is difficult, because our decision may be “not sinful” on our end, but still have broader, sinful repercussions in the larger world.

One example of this might be frugality. You purchase an inexpensive trinket that brightens your life and brings you joy. You spent your money wisely, right? But what if that trinket came from a third world country, where a corrupt government keeps its people enslaved? Your purchase of that trinket indirectly keeps someone in poverty. Is that a sin? Should it be?

It may be irrational to try to live in a manner that does the least amount of damage possible. Can we survive without buying things from foreign countries with dubious governments? If our thinking were that broad all the time, we would doubt each purchase and social interaction, wondering what damage we inflict in our innocent consumerism.

My point is, sometimes we “sin” in ways we cannot or do not realize. Often, our preoccupation with sin is on the “obvious” sins – lust, or pride, or gluttony, or deceit, or any number of other things easily identifiable. You can slice and dice “sin” any way you want, in an attempt to figure out what it is and define it, but I think when your actions negatively affect someone else, that is probably a sin. In an ideal, divine world, these things would not happen. But we live in a fallen one – and they do.

The best visual representation for what I’m talking about actually turns up in The Tunnel, which starts up on PBS tomorrow. I’m leery about recommending it, because I’ve seen the uncut British version. Overlaid over the thought provoking plot is an awful lot of f-words and several sex scenes. (I have to wonder, how much will PBS cut? Any of it? How far has Public Broadcasting disintegrated since my childhood?) It is a story about sin. It is a story about deliberate sin, in the knowledge it will harm people… and innocent sin, in not realizing how far those repercussions will go.

Often, in sinning, we think only of the immediate fall-out, without realizing that sin is like an infection. It spreads. It touches people we don’t realize will be impacted. In this story, a man chooses a deliberate sin. He is accustomed to indulging in that sin. Little does he know, until late in the story, that this one sin, a sin he thought impacted only three people, has devastating consequences for hundreds of people.

Our actions have consequences. Our choices ripple out into society, no matter how small. We cannot always see the result. That is why we cannot attain perfection on our own. Even in being careful in our choices, we simply do not know.