On Infections and Vaccines

If sin is like a virus, is grace like a vaccine?

“Aw, c’mon Mom. All the other kids are doing it. Why can’t I?”

Does this sound familiar? I’m certain I’ve heard this more than once, and I’m equally certain I tried this a few times it on my own mother. Her response was one used by many mothers:

“So, if all the kids jumped off a cliff, you’d jump too?”

It seems obvious that just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s good or right, yet popularity is a significant influencer. We might not be swayed by the really bad stuff (“but Mom, everybody is a serial killer!”) but it seems we can be more easily swayed by the little stuff. It’s only as we get older that we realize how easily the little sins can morph into big sins.

Joseph Hollcraft has an interesting article on how sins behave like viruses (which you can read by clicking here.) Among other things he points out that a single virus is very tiny, and they only get dangerous when they are apparent in large numbers. He likens the virus to venial (minor) sins:

Venial sin is subtle: an attachment to a worldly pleasure, the welcoming of a bit of anger, a dash of ego—these are all microbes that can easily grow and fester into mortal sin—the grave matter that leads to spiritual death.

So, when a sin becomes popular, it is easy to see how it spreads like a virus. It replicates and invades, at first in minor ways, then becoming more aggressive and dangerous as the numbers grow. And, just as with a virus, the more infected we get, the easier it is for us to get more infected. And what better way to increase infections than by making a sin socially acceptable?

We don’t let a child get away with shoplifting a candy bar from the store for fear he or she might work their way up to more serious crimes. Yet in some major American cities, shoplifting has become normalized to where thefts of less than $1,000 are not prosecuted, and guess what? Given permission to sin, people are walking into stores and taking $999 worth of stuff openly. To put it bluntly, if you open the door to sin, people will walk through it.

So, is there a vaccine for sin? What prevents people from taking items from a store even if they know they can get away with it? What tells us that “getting away with it” is not a good determiner of right and wrong? What tells us there is a right and wrong? You might say you were trained to it because your parents did not let you take the candy bar. But what taught them to train you?

For most, the training stems from a religious affiliation, which itself has described a moral law based on the authority of God. In the Judeo-Christian heritage, this moral law was at first similar to the parent punishing the child: we obey God because we fear God and the consequences of our actions. But through Christ we received an element of grace and responsibility: we obey God because we want to obey God and receive the benefits of his grace.

In an article by Dr. Paul Adams (which you can read by clicking here) the author uses Jesus’ parable of yeast to describe the infectiousness of grace. He also points out that in other places of the Bible, yeast is not really very popular. It’s a fungus and a symbol of impurity. But Jesus points out that it spreads easily, survives everything, and makes things grow. And therein lies the important difference: the virus destroys, the yeast creates. Sin is popular but corrosive to the human soul. Grace is plain, unspectacular and even difficult at times, but it expands the soul as yeast expands bread.

Another analogy for the spreading of sin is a rusty piece of metal corroding all the metal around it. Another analogy for grace is yeast replicating and being used in multiple loaves of bread. So, perhaps as parents we might ask that child who wants to do something just because it’s popular, “Do you want to be a purveyor of rust, or a purveyor of bread?” Okay, the child might not understand, but we do. We might begin by teaching our children about consequences, but we must end up by teaching them about grace.

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