The Hebrew word avon is another word for sin, but with a different nuance. We also translate it as “iniquity,” which adds another dimension to our understanding.
The biblical authors use avon to describe a twisted or crooked road (e.g., Lamentations 3:9) or a malformed back that’s bent out of shape (as in Psalm 38:6). Isaiah uses avon to mean “dazed and confused” (Isaiah 21:3). Avon is about distorting what was otherwise beautiful and good, and the authors use it to refer to behavior like murder or adultery. Other examples of this type of twisted behavior include deceitfulness, broken faith, violence, and other kinds of harm.
Avon also refers to the crooked results and consequences—the suffering people, shattered relationships, and cycles of retaliation that come from this behavior. When we are abused and taken advantage of, we are experiencing avon, iniquity—sin.
The choice to sin often begins with an urge to look out for “me, myself, and I” and ignore our human purpose, which is to care for others as we care for ourselves, to love one another as God loves. When we ignore or diminish others to become self-serving, we allow the deadly croucher to rule over us. We become bent, crooked, and bring harm to others and ourselves.
Page after page in Scripture, we see people missing the mark or distorting the good, and they either don’t know what they’re doing or, worse, believe they’re doing good. Sometimes we strongly believe we’re doing good when we aren’t. Other times, we honestly just don’t know that we’re missing the goal. With the best intentions, we can unintentionally do the bent and crooked thing. Thankfully, God responds with mercy, guidance, and a forgiveness that will ultimately heal each of us and the consequences of our sin.
Remember the scene when Jesus (who is God in the flesh) forgives the Roman guards while they are actively murdering him? “Forgive them,” he says, “for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He’s not in favor of what they’re doing, nor will he hold it against them. The story of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament describes a God who opposes and works to eliminate sin, and he also understands it more than we do. He consistently forgives sin. Seeing God’s posture of strong lovingkindness can empower us to forgive others’ sins as he forgives our own. This is a key part of living out our human purpose to love all people as God does.
And that’s the memo.
By The Bible Project