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Love and Sin, Numerically Speaking

Love and Sin, Numerically Speaking

by Carole Reardon

Teachers, Assistant Principals, they would walk into my office a bit tentatively, almost apologetically.

“The District has asked for a report on [insert 3 – 5 completely unrelated pieces of information, cross-referenced] and of course they want it tomorrow and I…. don’t know how to do that? Do you have time to maybe look at this…?” and if it wasn’t report card  or transcript season, I’d say I’ll see what I can do, hopefully in a manner that conveyed, “don’t expect too much…” but inwardly I would do a little dance, thinking, “OOOOHHHHHhhhh goody a DATAMINING!”

Datamining is fun! I made the mistake of saying this aloud at a district meeting and was duly rewarded with the expressions of those surprised by the sudden appearance among them of a three-headed space alien. I loved making a game of isolating seemingly unrelated pieces of information, and also delighting the teachers and administrators who thought I possessed some special magic over the database, but what really interested me were the stories datamining would tell. 

One year on our large campus I found there were more than eighty foreign languages spoken by our students, everything from Arabic to Tagalog. I found at least one student coded as gifted, special education, and ESL (English as a Second Language). Discipline numbers might tell you which teachers wrote student referrals, how many, and for what offenses, as well as the students collecting them. Readers (like me) are always looking for stories; Datamining, and the pure numbers and facts it gleaned, told me fascinating, often secret stories about the campuses of which I was a small part.

Loving stories and words, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about words and the way we use them: sometimes against one another to attack, control, or intimidate. On the other hand, the greatest leaders and orators have used them to comfort, unite, and give hope in turbulent times.

Word usage tells us something about the person speaking, offering subtle clues about where the speaker grew up, spent time, and what he or she finds important. What would I discover, I wondered, If I could datamine specific words used in the Bible, what might that tell me about their importance to God? Especially all the words involving sin? Surely some sins were more worrisome to God than others? Does God prioritize sin?

I needed a starting point for this entirely unscientific expedition, and the Ten Commandments seemed a good one. Then, I considered the Seven Deadly Sins, sort of variations on the Big Ten, and I felt including them to be valid because those words are used frequently in conjunction with all the sinning done by God’s unruly people. Lastly, I searched for a few phrases that seemed important, such as “bear false witness” as a stand-in for lying, and combined the totals for hypocrite, hypocrisy, and hypocrites. 

Using BibleGateway.com, and specifically the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible as my data source, I searched on the individual words and loaded the totals into an Excel spreadsheet. BibleGateway.com breaks it down by Old and New Testaments and Apocrypha; finding most of the Apocrypha hit repetitions of the Old Testament, I excluded it. I dug a little deeper than I show here, noting how many of the New Testament hits could be attributed directly to Jesus Christ; most of them are Jesus or the Twelve later directly quoting him. Pressed for space, I charted just the numbers.

But what, I wondered, of love? Jesus came to show us a new way, giving a New Commandment to Love our neighbor as ourselves, a way of love and forgiveness. If I wanted to know what Sin God most worried about, I also wanted to gauge how He felt about love. 

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It turns out love is on God’s mind quite a bit and not only for Himself. Six hundred and forty-nine mentions. In Old Testament and New, we are told to love God and love each other. God seems, to my eye, more concerned with the state of our love than our sin. Isn’t the best way to avoid sin, to love?

Love our neighbor. Love the stranger in our midst. Love the least among us.

We are reminded, again and again, of God’s enduring, steadfast love for us. 

As it turns out, it’s a beautiful story.

Carole Reardon is a blogger, photographer, and Episcopalian in North Central Texas.

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