Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

The Joy and Freedom of Being a Sinner

I was listening earlier today to Nina Simone’s 1969 recording of Blind Willie Johnson’s 1927 classic, “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” (I paid attention because, by coincidence, I listened to Eric Bibb’s 2010 version yesterday.) Here is the Simone version:

Nobody’s fault, but mine.

Nobody’s fault, but mine.

And I said if I should die

and my soul becomes lost,

Then I know it’s nobody’s fault but mine.

 

Oh I got a father.

I got a father and he can preach

So I said if I should die

and my soul, my soul becomes lost,

Then I know it’s nobody’s fault but mine.

 

Oh I got a mother.

I got a mother and she can pray

So I said if I should die

and my soul, my soul becomes lost,

then I know it’s nobody’s fault but mine.

 

Oh I got a sister.

I got a sister and she can sing. Oh Yeah.

and I said if I should die

and my soul becomes lost,

then I know it’s nobody’s fault but mine.

 

And I said if I should die

then I know it’s nobody’s fault but mine

and I said if I should die

and my soul becomes lost,

then I know it’s nobody’s fault but mine

I confess that I found this such a breath of fresh air—a liberating song.

Increasingly, we spin identity-creating stories in which we are always the victims. Even if we do bad things it is because of our genes or what happened to us or our circumstances or the government. We are not to blame; we are not guilty. But while many seek to flee from notions of sin and guilt, I find them humanizing. Of course, there are mitigating factors—biological, sociological, and so on. And of course we need to take into account the circumstances. However, when the rubber hits the road, to be told a story in which I am a responsible moral agent with a free (albeit limited) will—that I can sin and be considered guilty for so doing—is to treat me like a human being with dignity. I am not simply an effect; I am an agent.

So weirdly enough, I don’t find the idea that I am a person who can be guilty of sin to be oppressive. Blaming myself is not necessarily bad—though, it can be bad in some circumstances—sometimes it is precisely the morally appropriate response. We get over guilt not by always denying it (I am the victim) but by recognizing and acknowledging it (when appropriate) and dealing with it. The gospel provides the story in which we find God dealing with our guilt and locates us in a narrative of reconciliation and forgiveness.

I am an agent with freewill and responsibility—one who is accountable and will be called to account. I am a human being.

2 Comments

  1. Fortunately, of course, nobody’s soul is going to be lost. 🙂

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