It’s the framing of the concept of sin that intrigues me. Give me some rope here. This isn't canon, I'm just playing with ideas. Take it easy...gees.
First, we have to see how “missing the mark” assumes there is a mark, and that it exists as a goal towards which humans should stretch. It’s important here to remember the story of Eden where the human animal becomes the possessor of a specific understanding of life. Perhaps better than any other ancient origin story, the Genesis tale explains how humans were at one point in ignorant bliss, and then came the Fall, whatever that means.
My interpretation is that the story is a primitive attempt to explain how humans weren’t always humans. Endogenous retroviruses and other DNA evidence point clearly to common ancestry, which means as natural, evolving organisms we have to grapple with a time “before-human.” Back then, whatever creatures we were fit neatly into the world, silently like all the other animals. They all lacked human higher consciousness (although it’s impossible to say what kind of consciousness animals have). An animal life is like a cart on tracks, trundling along from food to sex to sunbathing to water to death – not necessarily in that order. This animal life is what is painted in first part of the Garden of Eden. Neither good nor evil. It just is.
Animals and the before-humans are said to have been close to “God,” before eventually falling away from that closeness. Genesis is one of humanity’s first attempts to explain how it came to consciousness, told through the eyes of a group of scared and cold people who had no way of knowing about DNA or archaeological evidence for life prior to human consciousness. To those quivering people, it seemed strange how they existed alongside animals but had no memory. It demanded an explanation, not least because humans are pattern-seeking animals by nature. It sounded perfectly reasonable that some magic force pulled them into existence out of non-existence. They then applied that logic to the rest of the animal kingdom and universe. After all, if you’re the only conscious being around, wouldn’t you assume this whole world was centred on you? It's the most obvious (false) pattern ever devised.
I find the early idea “closeness to God” intriguing because it seems to point not to an anthropomorphic entity “out there,” but instead to some amorphous Ultimate concept lacking specific boundaries – except for the boundaries inherent in being an animal. That’s really interesting. This is the concept of God, and it seems to be the early human’s attempts to define and locate the nature of reality. It’s an unsophisticated way of saying “now that we’re no longer simply animals cycling through our lives, what must we do?” God in the Garden is the comprehension of those limitations, “that which cannot be manipulated by action.” God is simply the nature of reality.
The Fall is a story about the emergence of consciousness. Up until an organism's specific brain matter clicked “on,” the world of animals was rolling along, unthinking and undirected except by their genes. And then it wasn’t. The human animal was suddenly confronted with the three Basal assumptions: the world exists, you can learn something about it and ideas with predictive quality are better than ideas without. It’s much easier to be a cat.
The Fall is a story of when an animal jumped the tracks. Suddenly, death/good/evil/suffering all manifest in human lives, yet kept hidden and unavailable from other animals. Humans could comprehend their own mind, and therefore other minds. Humans now know what hurts them, which means they know what hurts others.
And that is sin.
Missing the mark is what happens when people act in a way that doesn’t comport with the nature of reality. Every religion has its own way of describing this, and ways of aligning and harmonising people with the nature of reality. Some get close, while some are terrible attempts. And many continually update their proscriptions and admonishments as technology and times advance. All have the same goal: to reduce suffering. Primitive people said sin was not doing the will of God. They know there is a box around humans, and that the box is called suffering. Suffering is something humans cannot remove, only reduce. You can’t defeat reality. Harmonisation is the only option.
Which means that sin is best understood as the unnecessary exacerbation of natural suffering. To commit sinful acts requires that an individual understand that good acts exist and that there is a mark. When you increase suffering, this is sin. It is missing the mark.
I think the point of life, broadly speaking, is to discover as many of the parameters of the nature of reality as possible, in order to reduce suffering in your life and the lives of others. It’s about finding the edges of the box, to understand both your limitation and freedom. Without an appreciation of the nature of reality, people will drown in their freedom. With too much limitation, people feel enclosed and constrained. The balance between freedom and limitation is bound up in the concept of a garden (nature balanced in a human-controlled space, order/chaos).
In the Garden of Eden, humans ate from the tree of good and evil and discovered they were a) vulnerable and b) limited. Animals don’t know this. That’s the human story. Being vulnerable and limited means axiomatically that actions are limited. Gods can act in any way, without consequence. Animals also can act in any way, but don’t appreciate the consequences. Human consciousness supplies the ability to challenge and transgress the limitations of reality, with a full apprehension of the consequences. In so doing, we discover we are neither Gods nor animals. That is our curse. That’s what it means for sin to "enter the world." It is knowing that the only thing screwing up your life is your bad decisions. It's on you. Find the edges of that damn box before it's too late.
What does this mean for us?
Humans must work to hit the mark. To do this, they first must know there is a mark. They must then try to discover that mark and organise their life to comport with it. You do this by learning the reasons behind why boundaries were created by those who came before. This means appreciating why the nature of humans and the nature of reality led to the decision to create laws and restrictions, or permissions. Why is it that I am being encouraged to act in this way?
(A burqa, for instance, wasn’t invented to oppress women but to protect them from the nature of male sexuality in a world without police or a social contract. If you take those away, women return to being their natural state as a protected resource. The nature of maleness resides beneath our social contract. It has not gone away. The nature of reality can only be diluted, not abrogated.)
(A second example is a law against eating bacon. I suspect the law was enacted when human culture was attempting to increase sections of the social contract. All human cultures practiced cannibalism and the historical evidence is clear in this. The dietary habit regresses the mind, making the consumer more animalistic. To pull us out, elders restricted the eating of pork because when cooked bacon smells like human flesh. My uncle served for years in the fire brigade and to this day can't eat bacon, the memories are too vivid.)
Sin is a message. It is an encouragement to strive for existential power to control our lives and minimise suffering. It is a warning that the box (the nature of reality) will always exist.
Listen here, Wildman. Figure out the edges of the box and harmonise yourself with them. Like Kung Fu, your life will be spent trying to figure it all out, but you never will – and then you'll die. That's fine. It's supposed to be that way. But make sure to turn around so younger people don’t fall into the same traps as you did. Your job is to remove suffering. it's to leave this earth a bit better than you found it.
Now start reading old books!