One of my favorite TV characters once remarked, “Honey, we’re all villains in someone else’s story.”
And even though this show was not about Christianity in any way, I think this is one of the best ways of explaining the nature of human sin.
Sin, (like evil), is a word that we don’t like to use. That’s probably because, like many religious words, it’s been misused in the service of manipulating and controlling others. There are some Christians who automatically label a choice or behavior as “sinful” if they don’t understand it, if it doesn’t fit their rigid and comfortingly conventional ideas of the way life is supposed to be.
But the real nature of sin is highly personal. It is a condition that exists deep within each individual heart. It is not the same thing as a refusal to adhere to a set of arbitrary rules of convention. Rather, it’s simply a word that describes the human condition. And since we are all human, we are all sinful.
But it’s hard to admit that. Because that means we have to recognize we have been the villain in someone else’s story…possibly many people’s stories. Whether we like it or not.
But, being human, we make excuses. “I was just having a bad day.” “He shouldn’t have said that to me if he didn’t want me to react like that.” “I needed the money, so there was nothing else I could have done.” “I didn’t mean it the way she took it.” “If he had been through what I have, then he would understand.” And our final analysis, without fail, is always: “It wasn’t my fault.”
Thus we build a solid, protective, white wall of faultlessness around ourselves.
All our excuses are probably true. It’s probably true that we’re not as villainous as the other person (or people) have made us out to be. Yet the fact remains that, whether fairly or unfairly, we have become the villain in their story.
This plays out in many ways during our lives, but I think where we see it most clearly is in the circumstance of divorce. (Or any bad breakup, really.)
In fact, the word “ex-husband” or “ex-wife” is synonymous with the world “villain” in our cultural lexicon. An ex is automatically the bad guy. Ex-spouses, without exception, are cruel, manipulative life-destroyers.
And yet, the most interesting thing about that, is if you have an ex, this means that you are an ex yourself. Which, by extension, automatically makes you a villain, too.
In the early years after my divorce, I certainly felt this way about my ex-husband. I felt that his actions during our marriage and immediately after were the textbook definition of pure cruelty. I would see how beloved he was in our community and would think: Wow, he’s completely deceived everyone. How can they not realize who he really is? Don’t they know that he’s the villain in my story?
I even nicknamed him Voldemort for a while.
But after a number of years, I was able to see and to acknowledge that we had both been cruel to each other. Both of us were the villains in each other’s stories. Neither one of us was a victim, and neither one of us was blameless. And until he passed away in 2018, this “Voldemort” became one of my best friends, my greatest champions, and a wonderful, supportive co-parent to our two children. If I had never been able to acknowledge our equality in sinfulness, if I had continued to simply label him as the villain, I would have missed out on this wonderful partnership.
Acknowledging our sinfulness frees us to love and forgive others. It opens up amazing opportunities for powerful partnerships. And it’s not only in the realm of marriage and divorce that this plays out.
It plays out when someone cuts you off in traffic. (While this might be somewhat uncharitable, I like to assume they just have diarrhea.) It plays out in our political divisions (you know, because we can’t quite forgive each other for voting for either Biden or…that other guy.) It plays out in almost every news story, every comment section on social media, every road rage incident, every cold snubbing.
Every moment of every day…people mutually become the villains in each other’s stories. And they mutually refuse to acknowledge their villainy.
What if we could put all that aside?
What if each one of us could look in the mirror and recognize that we are ourselves the problem?
How powerful would that be?
Because we might realize, when we’re arguing about politics, that we’re not really angry with each other at all, but that we share a mutual anger towards a corrupt system in need of change.
We might realize that our children are learning how to manipulate others to their will instead of how to peacefully resolve conflict.
And we might even realize that we all share responsibility for accidents, violence, misunderstandings, disasters of all kinds.
Maybe it’s time to bring the old-fashioned word “sin” back into our lexicon again.
Because then the real forgiveness, and the real healing, can finally begin.