For the Christian adult with ADHD, this question can be a constant companion (and a debilitating one, at that.)
Is it a sin when I act impulsively, but do things I didn’t want to do?
Is it failing to love and respect when I forget something that was important to my spouse?
Is it sloth when I can’t finish my daily chores?
Is it greed when I overeat or overspend?
Here are my thoughts on the matter. I’ll start with a disclaimer: I’m not a theologian, a deaconess, or a minister. I have studied the Bible diligently for 20 years, and I have thoughts about how to apply it to our lives. Please consider this a CONVERSATION, and always question the truth of anything that is a human connection and not a direct missive from God.
First, I think we should define sin. A lot of people consider it a sin if you break the laws God set out for us in the Bible, and I think most of us can agree on that. I tend to see sin less as breaking RULES (which can feel arbitrary sometimes) and more as taking a step AWAY FROM THE NATURE OF GOD. If God IS goodness, truth, and light, then we sin by doing something that is NOT GOD. Like…light and shadow. We haven’t broken a RULE when we step out of bright sunlight into a dark house. We aren’t being arbitrarily punished by the sun for deserting him. It’s just that WHEN we choose to leave his presence, darkness is the result, since he IS light. This is my understanding, which you are free to argue with at your leisure, and indeed I appreciate respectful arguments, discussions, etc.
But let’s just say sin is purely breaking God’s law. Okay. So when I, in my impulsivity and anger (neither of which are sins in and of themselves), scream “I hate you!” at someone I love, am I sinning? Many of us would say “Obviously, yes. God commands us to love, not hate, and we may love that person, but we did something hateful and possibly FELT hate in the moment. So yes, sin.”
Okay, how about a more subtle example. If I hyperfocus on something fun all day long and my husband returns home to find all of the chores undone, dinner not started, and a box of his favorite cookies completely demolished, is that a sin? I certainly didn’t act in a loving way…but then again, I didn’t have any intentions of doing harm. I just never THOUGHT of my husband or how to love him and help him at all. And that’s not my fault, is it?
My answer: Yes and no. I’ve been given a brain with a very weak working memory and some other chemical deficiencies. But I also found myself standing in the dark. I may not have meant to end up there, but I did nonetheless.
I believe this is part of what the Bible is talking about when it says that our world and flesh are fallen. We have physiological bodies and brains that make sin – walking away from God – so easy that it is sometimes hard to notice until it’s already done. We have hidden automatic thoughts which lead us to feel negative emotions and take hurtful actions. We have chemical deficiencies that create problems.
Is HAVING ADHD a sin? I say no. Does it LEAD us to sin. I say it 100% does.
So does neurotypicity. The brain which is incredibly regimented and likes things done the right way, on time, in order…might have difficulty with sins like not trusting God, or passing judgement, or gathering up treasures on earth. “Drive” can be just as sinful as “laziness.” “Failure to forgive” can be just as unloving as “forgetfulness.” Refusing to be charitable can be a sin, just as spending too much. “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” James 4:17.
The point? The brains we have been given lead to sin, in my opinion. But so do everyone else’s brains. We are humans. It’s what we do. As ADHD adults, our sins are often LESS EASY TO COVER UP. But that is only a bad thing when we allow shame to keep us from honestly and vulnerably opening ourselves up to God’s forgiveness and grace.
So what do I recommend to someone who agrees with me…and yet is STRUGGLING under the weight of sin and judgement from others?
First – know that Christ died for EVERY SINGLE ONE of the sins you seem to keep repeating. You aren’t going to out-sin his grace. Confess each sin to God and know that you are forgiven. (See 1 John 1: 7-9).
Second – pray for the faith to believe that you CAN take responsibility for your actions and change your habits. Then, start looking for evidence to prove that this is the truth. Because it IS. EVEN in your situation. EVEN with your trauma, your condition, your personality, your pain.
Third – Take every opportunity to flood your mind with God’s word. Music, peers, sermons, Bible reading, EVERY chance you get to put more of God into your mind, TAKE it. When HIS thoughts become automatic, the darkness retreats in front of you.
Fourth – Get help from someone who understands both ADHD and the connections between our thoughts, feelings, and actions. I am one of these people, but I also have colleagues I can refer you to who work in similar ways. The goal is to start to identify what thoughts are present in moments of negative behavior, and start working on ways to change them so that it becomes your habit NOT to sin. If you would like to chat about working with me, please reach out directly. At this time, I have only 5 coaching spots available.
I hope this helps, and I welcome ALL respectful comments, even those that disagree with my statements. Let me know if there are other topics you would like to have me cover!