All sins are equal... Except when they're not

“Dear Lord, I know you don’t get prayers from trees all that often, but please hear me out. My forest is dying. The humans have come and chopped down the trees. I fear I am next. Please save us, oh Lord! Teach the humans the error of their ways. I beg of you. Your humble creation, Tree”

This was a prayer written by an 8th grade girl who I was fortunate enough to spend time with this summer at confirmation camp. She wrote this prayer during our final day at camp, when our theme was “Keeping Creation.”

As part of our discussion that day, I asked students to rank each of the following items on a scale of evilness from 1-10, with 1 being the least evil and 10 being the worst, most heinous offense possible:

i.The Holocaust 
ii.Slavery in America 
iii.Ethnic cleansing 
iv.Religious persecution 
v.Nuclear warfare 
vi.Child labor 
vii.The harming of the environment 
viii.Global warming 
ix.Sweatshop working conditions 
x.Racial profiling 
xi.Making profits off timber, jewels, etc etera by ravaging the environment

I was shocked by the results.

Each of my girls gave two things on this list a 10: The Holocaust and the harming of the environment.

I fully expected the Holocaust to receive a 10. After all, it is, without question, our world’s classic example of evil.

But I never expected the girls to conclude that harming the environment was just as much of an atrocity as killing millions of people.

When I pushed and prodded, they proceeded to tell me that not recycling is just as bad as murdering people; That our environment has just as much value as people do.

Now, I consider myself to be an environmentalist. I recycle, am rather anal about turning off lights when they’re not in use, love hiking, and drive a Prius. Yet, I admit, my girls’ opinions challenged me.

I played Devil’s Advocate and challenged them with the idea that God gave us the earth to use.

They said, “Sure, but He also told us to care for the earth,” something that according to them, we pretty much suck at.

Yet, even after hearing this, to me, there’s still a definite, almost exponential, difference in degree of evilness between Hitler and my neighbor who doesn’t recycle.

To me, the evilness of those two things are simply not equal.

Something that’s ironic since I’m always the one telling my kids that in God’s eyes, all sins are equal.

Except, of course when they’re not…

Because as much as I hate to admit it, it seems that it’s I, not my kids, who has trouble grasping this truth. While I’m stuck logically examining things, they seem to intuitively and profoundly recognize that all sins are equal; That murdering and not recycling are equally reprehensible in God’s eyes. And that because of this, we have a responsibility to protect not just each other, but the earth as well.

Perhaps this view is an overly simplistic one, not yet influenced and colored by life experience.

But perhaps it’s something more than that.

Perhaps it’s the ability to see things more clearly than I can, to see the world as God does.

And maybe, just maybe, its this ability to intuitively see the world as God does that led Jesus to say that the kingdom of heaven belongs to kids. (Matthew 19:14)



That is pretty cool for your kids to recognize that. I have to admit I fall with you in my struggle to equate the two. Perhaps the two things (holocaust and environmental irresponsibility) are not actually two different things, but different expressions of the same sin: failure to honor God’s creation whether plant, animal or human. I think it is our assumption that God values us above birds and tress that makes it hard to accept, but the bible says God dresses the flowers and knows the days of the sparrows, so who’s to say they aren’t equally important to him.
I added your blog as a link on my blog:O)

Posted by Rebecca, about 13 years ago

Jen Bradbury

Rebecca -

Beautifully said. I love the idea that they are “different expressions of the same sin: failure to honor God’s creation whether plant, animal or human.” In fact, when you get right down to it, I think much of what’s wrong with the world could fall into this category of a “failure to honor God’s creation…”


Posted by Jen Bradbury, about 13 years ago

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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