Lake Stevens Journal - Your hometown newspaper since 1960


By James J. Jackson
Contributing Writer 

Mankind’s futile quest for self-absolution


April 5, 2010

From time to time, a phrase, title or label will come to mind that seems so bizarre that I convince myself that it is a figment of my imagination, rather than a factoid from my past. It might be a weird song that comes to mind periodically.

Often, just as I convince myself that I made it up, the song will play over the air, or a stranger will be humming or singing it. There is one song, whose name I won’t mention here, that has tormented me for years. My wife refuses to believe it ever existed, and no amount of Internet research has been able to reveal the existence of this song…but, one day, I will find the lyrics and writer…

I have, however, solved one such mystery recently. When I was a child, I saw a disturbing film clip titled ‘The Legend of the Sin Eater’. Over the years, this concept has frequently visited my mind, but before I relegated it to the trash bin of my vivid and active childhood imagination, I recently decided to check with Wikopedia, the Internet search engine.

According to Wikopedia, “The term sin-eater refers to a person who, through ritual means, would take on by means of food and drink the sins of a deceased person, thus absolving his or her soul and allowing that person to rest in peace. Sin-eating is a form of religious magic. It is believed to have been practiced in parts of England and Scotland. Apparently, 20th Century Fox has produced a film, “The Last Sin-Eater”. I have no plans to view it. I am just happy to know that I didn’t dream up the story.

From a human perspective, it seems noble and sacrificial that a person would be willing to actually eat the sins of another (or the representation thereof), taking those sins into himself or herself. The story does not seem to say what happens to the sin eater afterwards. Do the eaten sins then doom the eater to hell and damnation for all time? Or does this launch a chain of sin eaters to take in all of the sins that each preceding sin eater has eaten during his or her life?

It would seem that, eventually, no one would be available to eat the sins of the last sin eater, who would then be weighed down by ingested sins of his or her predecessors. What a tangled web we weave when we attempt to do that which is not ours to do.

No better time than in the season of Lent to contemplate the enormity and weight of our sin upon our souls, and to experience a strong sense of despair over our sin condition. Sadly, no amount of food or drink; no amount of gobbled representations of sin can save us. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. It also tells us that we do not have to eat our sins, or have anyone else eat them. God’s word tells us that Heaven is a free gift, paid for fully by the risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the concept of the sin eater was intended to reflect that Christ has taken our sins into His body and paid for them with his body and blood.

If that is the intent, it appears to miss the mark. Human nature leads us to constantly look for a better way to receive absolution from our sins, by our actions or the actions of other humans. God tells us, “There is a way that seems right to mankind, but in the end, it leads to death”.

Praise be to God, the One way, Jesus Christ, through forgiveness, removes the need for sin eaters or any other human method of absolution. We trust only in Him, and we celebrate His sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion in testament to that fact.

“Real Answers™” furnished courtesy of The Amy Foundation Internet Syndicate. To contact the author or The Amy Foundation, write or E-mail to: P. O. Box 16091, Lansing, MI 48901-6091;


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