February 2009 – In 1973, Dr. Karl Menninger, founder of Menninger Clinic, published Whatever Became of Sin? in which he wrote:
“The very word ‘sin,’ which seems to have disappeared, was a proud word. It was once a strong word, an ominous and serious word. It described a central point in every civilized human being’s life plan and lifestyle. But the word went away. It has almost disappeared – the word, along with the notion. Why? Doesn’t anyone sin anymore? Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?”
The whole burden of Dr. Menninger’s book is to document the disappearance of the concept of sin from American society. He contends that in place of the historic concept of sin, we now speak of crime and symptoms. He points out that, when you discard the concept of “sin” and replace it with the concept of “symptoms,” you’ve defined it as something that’s completely exterior, or outside ourselves. As his first proof that the concept of sin is lost in American society, Dr. Menninger cites the change by American presidents in proclamations associated with a National Day of Prayer.
The first president to call Americans to a National Day of Prayer was Abraham Lincoln. In 1863, he called the nation to repent of its “sin” and turn back to God. Almost 100 years passed. Then in the early 1950s, Congress passed a law that the president should designate a day in May as a National Day of Prayer. President Eisenhower then went back to Abraham Lincoln’s declaration, borrowed much of the language and used the word “sin.”
However, Dr. Menninger points out that during the rest of his term, Eisenhower omitted the word “sin,” and that since the early 1950s, no president had used the word “sin” again in a call to prayer. Now 35 years have passed and, so far as I know, no president since has used the word “sin” in connection with the National Day of Prayer. Simply put, no modern-day president has had the courage to call Americans to repent of their sins.
From the Oval Office to the home office, we have abandoned the concept of sin. But unfortunately, the practice of sin continues unabated.
What happens in a nation when sin is practiced but is not acknowledged? In his book The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, William Bennett, former secretary of education, identifies critical factors that reflect America’s moral, social and behavioral conditions. Bennett cites a 560% increase in violent crime, more than a 400% increase in illegitimate births, a quadrupling in divorce rates, a tripling of the percentage of children living in single-parent homes, more than a 200% increase in teenage suicide and a drop of almost 80 points in SAT scores.
According to Bennett, those cultural indicators continue to go down because we’ve turned away from the concept of the law of God which is the only thing that reveals our true spiritual and moral condition. Take away God’s law, and you have no reason to maintain the concept of sin. The two always go together. Give up one and you’re going to lose the other. That is why American society is spiraling downward today.
To reverse this trend, our first step is to face the truth about our own sinful condition as individuals. God’s absolute moral law reveals our sinful state, which drives us to the cross of Jesus Christ, the only place where we can repent and find forgiveness and deep inner cleansing.
If what is wrong with America is the sin inside you and me, then the more critical question becomes whatever became of my sins and yours? There are three things you and I can do about sin: We can deny it, we can try to “deal with” it (which doesn’t work), or we can admit that we are sinners, turn from sin and trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
Back to Dr. Menninger’s question – whatever became of sin? We just stopped talking about it, but we haven’t stopped doing it.
Here’s a simple prayer that will help you express the desires of your heart if you’re unsure about your relationship to Jesus Christ or if you’d like to be sure your sins are forgiven:
Heavenly Father, I am ready to tell the truth today. I am a sinner, Lord. For too long I’ve lived my life without you and gone my own way. I haven’t loved your Son, Jesus Christ. All my sins are against you and you alone. Here and now I turn from my sin, and I trust Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Lord Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me. Thank you for rising from the dead. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and save me. Make me the kind of person you want me to be. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.