I dislike throwing things away: Instead of throwing away the fruit salad from dinner tonight, I ate it. Instead of throwing away my son’s scuffy shoes, I put them in the Goodwill pile. Instead of tossing the cardboard packaging from the couch that arrived today, I saved it for the kids to paint on next week when it’s not raining. Moreover, when my kids wander around in the morning before school, as though they’ve never seen the house before, it bugs me that they’re wasting their time—“Go practice your piano! Start your homework! Pack your backpack,” I drill at them. “Anything but ramble around, randomly touching things.”
Despite my dislike of waste, I never thought about the possibility of waste being sinful until I read Hugh Nibley’s article “Zeal without Knowledge,” printed in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and a part of the curriculum for the advanced writing class I’m teaching this semester at BYU-Idaho. In this article, Nibley explicates the differences between God’s way of seeing and our mortal way of seeing. He argues that God doesn’t have the same mental limitations that we have; we should not assume that “if he is thinking of Peter, he cannot hardly be thinking of Paul at the same time, let alone marking the fall of the sparrow.” Rather, Nibley states, it’s important to recognize that God can see countless number of things at a time.
Why is that important? Because this recognition should force us to ask ourselves why God has limited our thoughts. Nibley argues that “this limitation is the essence of our mortal existence. If every choice I make expresses a preference, .. . then with every choice I am judging myself, proclaiming all the day long to God, angels and my fellowmen where my real values lie, where my treasure is, the things to which I give supreme importance. Hence, is this life every moment provides a perfect and foolproof test of your real character.” And, here’s the real zinger: “Sin is waste,” he says. “It is doing one thing when you should be doing other and better things for which you have the capacity.”
Strong stuff, huh? Even though I’m not a fan of waste, I’m not sure I needed that shot of guilt. If every moment and every choice is a proclamation of my values and treasure, then that’s exhausting! No kicking back to relax in front of the television, watching Modern Family? No Facebook breaks from the kids? Yet his argument rings true to me also. I believe we’ll be judged by our choices, and if that’s the case, then shouldn’t I have to believe we’ll be judged by all of them?
What do you think about Nibley’s definition? Is it more guilt-raising for you or motivating? Would you define “sin” or “waste” differently than he does?