Taking on the Sin of the World

A personal confession and lament

One of the things Christians learn growing up is that Jesus “took on the sin of the world.” It is a way we talk about what happened on the cross, a way the biblical writers chose to make sense of the violence that occurred to their Lord.

Christians have also been told that we should seek to imitate Christ.

I have wrestled with these twin ideas my entire life. In seeking to reconcile them, I have made many choices I otherwise would not have. I have been compelled to stand and speak and live with sisters and brothers I otherwise would not have. I have sought, and continue to seek, to disrupt whatever White Supremacy is operative in my life and work. I do what I can, when I can, as often as I can. I was privileged to be taught the lesson my friend Derrick writes about a long time ago. I work on this every day. I fail every day. I work on this every day.

I have to work on this every day because my personality type (INFJ) presents a challenge. I am an “empath.” This is not a made-up, superhero thing. It is a very real reality of my life that I “absorb” almost any emotion I come in contact with. If you and I meet up and you are in despair or angry, I “absorb” it and it wrecks me. It doesn’t have to be IRL, either. Scrolling Facebook and Twitter is enough.

More than simply being affecting, it is all too often a crippling phenomenon. If the emotions are strongly negative, I become despondent. I am incapable of thinking clearly or acting decisively. Introverted Feelers call this empathy overload.

Empathy overload is why I and others like me are so quick to establish strong personal boundaries. It’s why we are often maniacal about self-care. It’s also why we appear aloof or detached. What people interpret as cold and uncaring is actually the opposite: We care so deeply it is painful. Physically painful. This isn’t hyperbole or metaphor.

Yesterday, another unarmed Black man was shot. His name was Terence Crutcher. He was in distress, stalled on the side of a road, and he was shot because he looked like a scary “big bad dude.” I confess to quickly scrolling past the video on Facebook. I’ve seen that flick before. I can’t bring myself to see it again.

And yet: To be called as a disciple of Christ means imitating Christ. It means taking on the Sin of the World.

And then among all the links to the video and articles about it I see that my friend Denise is scared to ask her husband to run an errand.

To run an errand.

If you want to know what the Sin of the World is, that’s it. Right there. And now I am scared, too. Not in the same way, no. But I am scared for my friend. I feel it in my body, and I can’t stop crying.

Because of this and other hard and horrible things happening to people I love, I am on empathy overload. But I have got to find a way to take it all on. I have got to find a way to bear this Sin of the World in my body so that I can imitate Christ and participate in the healing of the world.

Oh Lord, hear my prayer.