I’ll bet no one has ever mentioned those three things in the same sentence. Hopefully, the reason I did will make sense to you as you read on.
As most people know, Kobe Bryant - one of the greatest basketball players of all time - will retire at the end of the current NBA season. During his twenty seasons in the league, he has worn two different jersey numbers: 8 and 24.
So, now the debate is on as to which of those numbers the Los Angeles Lakers - the team for which he has played his entire professional career - will retire. It’s been said that Kobe wants the team to hang his number 24 from the rafters of Staples Center as a salute to his illustrious career. Others speculate that he will opt for number 8. Still others are making a case for the team to retire both numbers.
Regardless of which number finally is retired (or both, which is unlikely; I’m not aware of it ever having been done before), there will forever be that reminder to people who attend Laker games that Kobe once graced the court below where his former jersey number hangs. I don’t know when the tradition of retiring great sports players’ numbers began, but I have always found it to be a very moving tribute to those whose careers are worthy of it.
For years to come, people will attend Laker games, and, while Kobe Bryant may not be on the court, fans can glance upward and be reminded that he once wowed them with his significant skills.
By loose analogy, many nations retire once-glorious battleships. In the United States, many of them now serve in various ports as museums. So, while Navy enthusiasts won’t see battleships among America’s present fleet of ships, some of them are kept as permanent reminders of the service they once provided to our country.
If for no other reason than idle curiosity you’ve read this far, here’s where I bring sin into the discussion. When we go to confession, something absolutely amazing happens. We tell the priest the sins we’ve committed, express our sorrow, receive (and, if we know what’s good for us, perform) our penance, vow to try not to commit those sins again and receive absolution for those sins. Our sins are not only forgiven by God through the priest, but they are literally annihilated.
Annihilate comes from two Latin words: “ad,” which means “to” or “toward,” and, “nihil,” which means “nothing.” When something is annihilated, it is turned “to nothing.” It’s gone. It’s no longer there. There is no reminder of it to be found.
So, unlike a great athlete who is “gone, but not forgotten” (especially because his retired jersey hangs in an arena), or a great warship that has been retired but can still be pointed to or visited in a port somewhere, there is no “sin bin,” where our forgiven sins are tossed but are available for viewing in the future.
Lent is a good time for us to ponder this. That’s because too many of us want to hold onto our sins. We may intellectually know that they are forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But do we really believe that they have been annihilated, turned “to nothing” by the God who doesn’t remember them?
Psalm 103:12 provides great support for this notion:
“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
It’s actually an act of pride on our part to hold onto sins that God has forgiven. By doing so, we’re saying that we know better than he does. And on a very practical level, we hold ourselves back spiritually by clinging to even the memory of past sins. We can choose to let them weigh us down, even though they have no “weight” at all, no existence at all. They have been annihilated.
Perhaps one final thought about this will be helpful. Anyone who has children knows that they do the wrong thing on occasion. And they have to be disciplined for committing those “sins” (quotation marks used because, of course, kids of a younger age aren’t really capable of what are typically referred to as “sins”; still they aren’t without need of correction, even if they can’t fully understand their wrong choices).
So, Johnny does something wrong. Mom or dad corrects Johnny. In very short order, it’s been forgotten by all parties. Soon, life goes on without the slightest remembrance of what Johnny did wrong, or the discipline doled out by mom or dad. Johnny may tell his parents that he’s sorry for his misstep after it occurs. But he doesn’t wake up every day after that and apologize again. The wrongdoing is gone, vanished, never to be recalled again. It’s been annihilated.
That’s how it is with our Heavenly Father. Yes, we need to tell him we’re sorry every now and then. And he is so very eager to wipe the slate clean:
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7).”
If you have a “sin bin” in some nook or cranny of your life, dispose of it today. It serves no purpose. What you think is in there really isn’t. All of your confessed sins have been, not “retired” for occasional future viewing, but annihilated.