Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us… ~ Hebrews 12:1
My wife and I started watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy again. I had forgotten how powerfully analogous this movie is to the Christian life. The first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, introduces the dark narrative of the ring and how Frodo Baggins, a hobbit, must take this ring to Mount Doom for its destruction. It becomes clear that the ring is a metaphor of evil and destruction. Everywhere the ring goes, darkness and evil propagate and until it is destroyed, it serves as a constant burden to Frodo, the fellowship and all of “Middle Earth.”
Watching this movie and reading the above text I am reminded of my own struggle. The Hebrew author begs the readers to lay aside a weight and “the” sin that clings so closely (NRSV). I notice a couple things from the text.
First, we are to lay aside. This applies to both the weight and the sin. I take it that weight and sin are simply two words describing the same thing although certainly one could argue that weight is general and sin is specific. What does it mean to “lay aside”? The NIV translates it “throw off everything” while the NLT translates it as “strip off.” And you thought stripping was bad!
Secondly, the sin that clings so closely. I like the way the NRSV translates it in contrast to the NIV which says the sin that so easily entangles. The sin that clings so tightly seems, at least to me, to make more sense. Also important to the discussion is the use of the definite article (“the”) denoting a specific sin. It might even be appropriate to translate it, “the clingy sin.”
This is, by far, the most difficult Lent I have endured in recent years. I am not specifically fasting from something and this has brought to light sin that I struggle with. My sin is a lot like Frodo’s ring in that wherever I go or whatever I do, the sin is there. I am reminded of its presence, I am aware of its potency and I am paralyzed by its power. My “clingy sin” is an ever-present reality of my separation from God and there are moments that are often too difficult to bear.
I could resort to pithy statements sure to give me a reprieve from my battle but in the end I find many of those “Christiany” statements to be, at best, banal. You know the statements don’t you? I have even preached a few of them…
- “Give it to Jesus.”
- “Pray about it.”
- “Let go and let God.”
- “God is in control.”
- “The Lord never gives you more than you can handle.”
With this clingy sin I have tried all of those and I wish I could say they work but many of them don’t. No matter how much I listen to “positive encouraging music” some days I just cannot handle my sin. In the raw and exposed moments of my sin I realize that my wrestling and struggle become the action of “laying aside” or, as the NLT puts it, “throwing off” in Hebrews 12:1. One day, like Frodo, I will fully realize Jesus cast my sin into darkness on Good Friday but it seems helpful to remind myself of where I have been so that I know where I am going (or where He takes me…trite saying number 6).
You want to know where I find true comfort?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses…”
Right there in the middle of an exposition on getting-it-togetherness the author shares the concept of community. However one defines who the witnesses are, I think we can all agree to the hard fact that we screw up. The author had his (or her?) own “clingy sin” in mind when he wrote those words. When a preacher is sharing this verse he or she has a “clingy sin” in mind. We all do. When a Christian claims they don’t struggle with a sin then I seriously wonder if they are doing the Christian thing right.
I find great solace in looking around and realizing there are others who are struggling and placing their burdens, too numerous to count, in the hands of an Almighty God trusting that he is true to his word and will forgive them.
You know what?
I believe that.
I will close by finishing the context of Hebrews 12:1.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart“ (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Don’t grow weary or lose heart friend.
We’re in this together.