Does God overlook our sins?
That’s a complex theological question. Let’s start closer to home: Do we want God to overlook our sins?
It’s easy to understand how the answer is yes. We want God’s forgiveness. In this sense, we echo the Psalmist’s cry: “Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.”
In order to understand how the answer is no, imagine going to a doctor. Do we want her to overlook our sickness? Imagine consulting with a coach. Do we want him to overlook our weaknesses as an athlete? Imagine asking a teacher for help. Do we want her to overlook the shortcomings of the paper we’re writing?
No, in every case we want them to look squarely at our problems. Only by not overlooking them, in that sense, can they help us.
Fortunately, the readings this week tell us God fulfills both parts of our hope: God both does and does not overlook our sins.
In what sense does God not overlook our sins? We hear it in Psalm 50 as God addresses Israel: “When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it? … I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.” God doesn’t ignore Israel’s sins. In fact, this is why God sent prophets to Israel. He is ready and willing to pardon their sins. But He’s not going to do it by pretending the sins don’t exist.
Jesus provides another example in His approach to the Pharisees in Matthew 23. He says: “They preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen” and so on. Jesus does not ignore the Pharisees’ faults. Rather, He trains His attention on them and names them for what they are.
In fact, this is true all through the Gospels. It’s how Jesus approaches the man born blind, and the woman at the well who has had five husbands, and the prideful request of James and John to sit at His right and left, and the bickering of the disciples over who is the greatest. Whether the problem is physical, moral, or spiritual, Jesus doesn’t ignore it. He goes after it — sometimes gently, sometimes sharply. He doesn’t overlook problems precisely because He wants to heal them.
This is the very reason Jesus took on flesh and died on the Cross. He didn’t overlook our sins. Rather, He looked squarely at them so He could go to the heart of them and do something about them.
Of course, God does overlook our sins in the sense of being willing to forgive them. We hear that when the Psalmist says: “The Lord is kind and merciful … He pardons all your iniquities, He heals all your ills … Not according to our sins does He deal with us” (Psalm 103). We hear it when the prophet Micah describes God as the one who removes guilt and pardons sins, who delights in clemency, who will have compassion on us, and who will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins (Micah 7). We see it in the ministry of Jesus.
What we hope for and who God is come together beautifully in the prophet Isaiah when he says: “Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: though you sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool” (Isaiah 1). God doesn’t overlook our sins. Instead, God is able to transform them — to transform us — into something glorious. That’s our deepest hope.
If you’re struggling to get your Lent started, open yourself up to the God who both does and doesn’t overlook our sins.