"FAILURE" is a word we often use as a substitute for "Sin".
Failure is of course a proper way to speak of sin. Sin itself is a failure to meet God's righteous standards. However, the 2nd season of "The Punisher" (Nexflix) illustrates why substituting "failure" in the place of "sin" is a recipe for despair .
ABOVE: Frank Castle, known throughout New York City as "the Punisher" after exacting revenge on those responsible for the death of his family. He is a man grappling with whether to fully embrace his new-found vigilante vocation.
1. FAILURE versus SIN:
Frank Castle (the Punisher) is a "principled" vigilantle being hunted by two people just as morally compromised as he is.
Frank Castle is first hunted by Billy Russo (a violent ex-military buddy). Billy's psychotherapist, Krista, describes the violent tendencies of both men as a facade that is at odds with their misunderstood inner-selves. She believes she can save Billy Russo, because his evil actions are not a true reflection of his authentic inner self: Russo's failures are a "failure" of authentic self-expression.
ABOVE: Krista, the psychotherapist of Russo.
Frank Castle is also pursued by ex-hitman John Pilgrim. Pilgrim had given up his hitman ways in pursuit of a life of religious devotion. However he is manipulated into performing "one last job" in order to put Castle in a coffin! Unlike Krista, Pilgrim knows he can not so neatly separate-out his brutal behaviour as if it were not part of his authentic self:
ABOVE: Pilgrim, the reluctant hitman
Notice above, that Pilgrim is also tempted to speak of his evil in terms of "Failure". However he corrects himself mid-sentence. It is not simply his "personal failure" that he can't stare at in the face, but his SIN. The sense of shame that crushes Pilgrim comes not simply from a "failure" to meet his own internal expectations. Pilgrim recognises that his shame originates in an offence against God.
2. FAILURE, SIN, and the hope of REDEMPTION:
Secular humanism assures us that the shame of our past "failures" can always be overcome, if only we can somehow recover our authentic selves. In contrast we are told that the religious concept of "sin" is mercilessly oppressive, tyrannical, and judgemental. We can perhaps overcome "personal failure" ourselves, but "sin" is assumed to be a form of religious oppression we can never escape from under.
It is surprising then, when the character closest to finding redemption by the end of Season 2 is John Pilgrim: the only character willing to speak frankly in terms of "sin". All the other characters seem more enslaved than ever to their ongoing "failures".
Unlike the "shame of sin", the shame of "personal failure" is a maze that offers no route of escape. Moral theologian Oliver O'Donovan offers penetrating insight into why...
To speak only of "personal failure" turns us mercilessly in on ourselves, like a maze with no exit. By contrast, in speaking also of "sin", we are prepared to turn outward towards the one who alone can forgive, with finality.
I'm Steve. Anglican Presbyter, Practical Theology Enthusiast, and Graphic Design Hobbyist in Sydney, Australia