Hello, I am having difficulties with the idea put forth that sin is petty. For example, stealing a candy bar is worthy of hell, or sin, a finite action is worthy of infinite punishment in hell. In other words does the punishment fit the crime? I don’ t know what to say to this or how to think about this and I am looking for any assistance and ideas please. Thank you.
I think you probably want to explore the ideas of venial and mortal sins. And the fact that mortal sin separates us from God and venial wounds our relationship with God. Rather than looking at it as punishment/crime fairness, perhaps looking at it as a covenant or Union issue. We are called and invited to be in union with something that is All Holy. So sin cannot exist there.
Yes, some sins are so grave and deliberate that they constitute an active turning away from God and love, especially as they’re persisted in. Such acts are, in themselves, to be outside the will of God, and in that sense it could be said that sin is hell, sin is death, and eternally so if that’s how we choose.
Hoosier Daddy has a good suggestion about researching the difference between venial and mortal sins. And that it’s a covenant relationship not one of criminal and judge.
You might want to look at it this way. If you stole a candy bar from a family member would that break the love between you? It might strain it a bit, but would it totally break it? Probably not.
If, however, you were to try to kill a family member–with full knowledge, in your right mind, and intending to actually do it, how would that affect your relationship? It’d no doubt do serious damage to it.
God is our Father. If we deliberately turn our backs on him, he will still love us, but he will let us leave him if that’s what we want. He doesn’t impose himself on anyone. If we break our relationship with him he is ever ready to take us back, but it has to be up to us.
God is an eternal person who lives outside of time. So, for him it’s always now. That’s a hard concept for us to grasp because we cannot conceive of a changeless environment. The upshot is that no sin we commit is merely in time–it’s also in the eternal now. Jesus’ presented his death on the cross to the Father within eternity, which is why our sins can be forgiven at any time. But, if we decide to sin gravely and not repent, that sin never goes away because it is in eternity even if time has passed.
So, it’s best to confess our mortal sins ASAP and be truly contrite (although just admitting that we have sinned–due to fear of hell is enough for confession). We don’t need to be afraid of God’s justice if we are repentant, and strive, by the help of God’s grace, not to sin any more.
God is both Merciful and Just. The punishment will always fit the crime when it comes to final judgment. There is a lot more to sin deserving hell than “stealing a candy bar”. gravity of the act, Knowledge and free choice all play their part.
As for a finite act deserving eternal punishment. Murder is a finite act. Is murder worthy of spending the rest of your existence in prison?
Just some thoughts.
All good comments above.
As Christ Himself said the two greatest commandments are 1. Love God. 2. Love others for the love of God. (paraphrased).
Anytime we fail to love as we should is a sin. We sin by either acts of commission or acts of omission. Venial sin - small failures do not result in an eternity in Hell. Mortal sin - major failures - can result in Hell IF we do not confess them with true contrition.
Our Catholic Faith is of enormous value because after Christ rose from the dead He said:
John 20: 19-23 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. [Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
We must make amends for ALL our sins, venial and mortal. Either on the earth, or in purgatory for venial, or eternity in Hell for unconfessed mortal sin/s.
God is about Love and Mercy. But also about Justice.
Thank God for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I read a book back in the 80s, Principles for a Catholic Morality, Timothy E O’Connell that I thought was very good. He goes through all the various ways of classifying sins, points out their strengths and weaknesses, etc. I think it gives a very good overview of the subject.
The catechism also has things to say, and since it’s online, that’s easy to check.
I would also consult my own head, much as several other commenters said. Using their example, let’s say you steal a candy bar worth 85 cents from a store. There are a host of ways to look at this: you are depriving the owner of a living, you might be starving, you steal a candy bar every day from this store, you are a kleptomaniac and can’t help yourself from stealing at least one item from every store you go in, you are giving a bad example to some kid who saw you steal it, etc. etc.
So you can easily see it quickly becomes very, very complicated. But there are a couple reasonable comments you can make: First, the Church–or police–aren’t going to say, “Stealing is OK.” A confessor or judge might find out some other circumstances and treat each individual differently. But ultimately, it’s God–who knows ALL the details–who is the judge. But the Church is in the business of publishing general rules for the believers at large, and that makes perfect sense, just as the government makes laws for everyone, realizing that judges have the power to overrule in certain cases.
The second thing is something I would not ordinarily even think of, but something I have seen an awful lot of on this site–scrupulosity. You’ve got to keep things in proportion. You can’t drive yourself nuts over every little thing that pops up–this is not how God wants you to live your life. Each of us has some weakness or weak area. I drink, but seldom–I often go months without a drink, and it doesn’t bother me at all. And when I do drink, it’s only a couple beers or a glass of wine, or maybe one cocktail. So for me that’s not an area of concern. But let’s say I have an issue with stealing–office supplies from work, tools from worksites, things from a store when the clerk is in the back, etc. In that case, I need to understand that I DO have a problem, and in that case (going back to the candy bar above), even stealing an 85 cent candy bar is a big deal–FOR ME.
So is a particular sin “petty”? Maybe. It depends on a host of circumstances. But if it is part of a larger pattern, it’s probably noteworthy even if it is petty in itself. You need to know yourself–which is the object of an examination of conscience. Personally, I would pay more attention to the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Are you polite? Helpful? Honest in your dealings with others? Do you show appreciation for the help of others? Do you foster a workplace that is cooperative and honest? From my own life, I see these as the areas that matter, but are overlooked. Remember the Confiteor: “I have sinned…in what I HAVE FAILED TO DO.” It’s all very well and good to not steal that 85 cent candy bar, but if you then turn up at your job in Wall Street and sit there like a lump while the VP outlines his grand plan to buy derivatives and defraud millions of people of their savings, you’ve got a much bigger problem.
The “finite action” as you describe it, the actual action of a sin, is just the outward symbol of our soul.
It is not the action itself that merits you eternal punishment. Two individuals can perform the same action, and it could be only one of the individuals meets the three requirements to commit a mortal sin (grave matter, full knowledge, and full consent). The other may not have full knowledge of the gravity of the action, or may not fully consent to it.
Does doing good automatically get you into heaven? No, but faith in God does. How do you show that faith? By doing good.
Does sinning get you into hell? Only insofar as it is a representation of your disregard of God.
Mortal sin (which leads to hell if one dies in choice) is about grave matter (not light matter such as the theft of a normal candy bar).