You have probably encountered the phrase "extenuating circumstances," which is one of the more common ways that this word turns up in modern times. "Extenuate" was borrowed into English in the 16th century from Latin "extenuatus," the past participle of the verb "extenuare," which was itself formed by combining "ex-" and the verb "tenuare," meaning "to make thin." In addition to the surviving senses, "extenuate" once meant "to make light of" and "to make thin or emaciated"; although those senses are now obsolete, the connection to "tenuare" can be traced somewhat more clearly through them. In addition, "extenuate" gave us the adjective "extenuatory," meaning "tending to make less."
We usually hear this word in relation to legal matters. The American judicial system is full of cases that extenuate the crimes of the perpetrator:
- Murder is extenuated to manslaughter because of the lack of a prior criminal record.
- Rape is extenuated to simple assault because of the youth of the perpetrator.
- Battery is extenuated to simple disorderly conduct because the perpetrator is a famous athlete.
Most citizens are outraged at the injustice that occurs in many of these cases.
Rather than extenuate our circumstances or provide some excuse as to humanity's sinfulness, G-d points out just how sinful we truly are. By giving the commandments of the Law He reveals the depth of our sin and depravity. Paul describes it this way:
Therefore did that which is good [the Law] become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good [the Law], so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. (Romans 7:13)
When He came in the first century it was to pay the penalty of our sins: death. Our sins required the death of the world's only sinless man.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Some people think that Messiah came to give us an "out" from our sins: a "get out of jail free" card that allows us to disregard the Law by which we were found guilty. Paul also speaks to this error:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may increase? God forbid! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)
Rather than seeing Messiah as a soft-hearted benefactor who keeps paying the bill every time we max out our spiritual credit cards we should recognize that we should not be "charging" anything.
Jerry Bridges has written a book entitled Respectable Sins. In the book he asks the question: have Christians become so preoccupied with the major sins of our society that we have lost sight of our need to deal with our own more subtle sins? He addresses a dozen clusters of specific "acceptable" sins that we tend to tolerate in ourselves - such as jealousy, anger, pride, unthankfulness, and judgmentalism.
The hypocrisy of pointing our collective finger at the sins of the world and roundly condemning them while extenuating our own "respectable sins" should be apparent. Unfortunately it appears that it is not apparent to many, otherwise Mr. Bridges would not have had to write his book to point it out.
Rather than extenuate our sins and provide excuses we should "take up our cross daily" and crucify our fleshly, sinful passions and follow our Lord and Savior.
And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)