Whatever keeps me from God.
Now this may seem a little too introverted and esoteric and precious and hardly worth bothering about, if sin is just about whatever keeps Kelvin from his prayers; and so it may seem until we remember the terrible events in Norway this past week. What makes an intelligent young man commit such an abominable and atrocious act? He sits in court, looking smug and calm, seemingly perfectly at ease with the pain he has inflicted on the 98 people he killed, on the many others he wounded, on their families and indeed on a whole nation. Who knows? To say that he is mad is a truism, and doesn't help our understanding one bit. No doubt the psychologists will pore over the whys and wherefores for years to come, but my guess is that somewhere sometime long in his past he has made choices; and continued to make choices which have subverted, distracted, argued, seduced, tempted and betrayed him away from wholeness. He has adopted patterns of thought which have wrapped him in the dark warm comforts of illusion and he has grown so used to them that the hard edged truth of the humanity of of his victims is beyond his knowing - or at least it was on Friday July 22. He has progressively chosen darkness and illusion instead of light and truth. He has, in other words, sinned and moved progressively further into sin.
We would, all of us, be justly offended if any comparison was drawn between our own petty misdemeanours and the monstrous acts of Anders Behring Breivik, but while differing in scale and effect, all sins are essentially of the same species, which is, I think Jesus' point in Matthew 5:21-22. Sin is not so much about the individual acts as about the attitude of mind which lies behind those acts; the attitude which sees the truth as an affront to our own self determination and which would do anything to mask the truth. The Christian tradition is unequivocal about the corrosive and destructive power of sin. Just as rust may show in a small pimple on your car door or in a hole in your chassis which causes the whole car to be towed to the junkyard, so sin may show in seemingly innocuous or in catastrophic ways. Like rust, sin needs to be assiduously watched for, taken seriously, and treated early at each and every appearance.