Sin is imitation of God, Augustine tells us. But how can this be so? After all, saints from Saint Paul to Thomas à Kempis reminds us that we are to imitate Christ; and Christ, we are told, is God the Son. So surely imitation of God is no sin?
Of course, there is more than one kind of imitation. The apprentice imitates the master, the infant her parents, the student his teacher. In all of these, the imitation is discipline. The lesser rightly imitates the greater. In Tolkien’s Silmarillion, Aulë explains his imitation of Ilúvatar, God. “The making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child of little understanding that makes a play of the deeds of his father may do so without thought of mockery, but because he is the son of his father.”
But sometimes, we imitate not in order to give honor but in order to take it. We imitate what we hope to avoid, or what we hope to replace. The con man imitates good deals, the usurper imitates the rightful ruler, or the teenager imitates a legal adult with an imitation ID card. This kind of imitation is mockery, and it is based in the lie that says we don’t need the one we are mocking. We imitate those we dislike and those we resent, mocking them for the entertainment of a small group of friends. When we’re too stubborn to ask for help we act like people who don’t need help, thus imitating those who are better than we are.
Perhaps sin is this latter kind of imitation: a stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge our need for God, manifest as the kind of imitation that believes it can replace the one imitated. This kind of imitation exalts the imitator, and it is opposed to both truth and love.
Augustana Chapel Lenten Devotional: “Sin”
David O’Hara, February, 2010