Blogmatics: Sin

blogmatics2

This is the eighth part of a series I’m calling Blogmatics. It’s an attempt on my part to lay out as best I can in as brief a manner as I can all the theological assumptions behind my blog posts.

 

There are a lot of things we don’t like to talk about in the church. Always have been, always will be. These taboo topics tend to shift with the cultural sands. Things that once were taboo eventually become acceptable to speak about and vice versa.

It could just be me, but sin seems to be an increasingly taboo topic in the church. Of course, there are still plenty of fire and brimstone churches out there, but outside of a depravity obsessed tradition, sin isn’t something many of us are comfortable talking about. It doesn’t put butts in the seats the way it used to, it’s awkward to talk about with people outside the church (and many inside it), and public image is a powerful force in the church, so we don’t talk about sin.

It’s just easier that way.

But why don’t we talk about sin?

Is it just because it makes us uncomfortable?

Perhaps.

But I wonder if part of the reason we don’t talk about sin is that many of us don’t have a clear handle on what sin is, or at least the understanding of sin that we do have is confusing and, if we’re honest, seems absurd – a child stealing a cookie from the cookie jar is equivalent to genocide? Really??

So we don’t talk about sin because we don’t know how to or at least we don’t know how to talk about it in a way that makes much sense.

But sin is a central issue in the Bible. We can’t escape it. It’s the very reason for the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. Which means we need to do our best to try and understand it and why the Bible seems to find it so problematic.

So what is sin?

Missing the mark?

Breaking God’s law?

A willful transgression against the known will of God?

I’ve heard all sorts of definitions for sin, but generally speaking I find most of them to be lacking. They either don’t take sin seriously enough or they frame in such a way that it becomes an inevitability that we are inexplicably held accountable for even though it was impossible to do otherwise. For example, of course we are going to “miss the mark.” We’re only creatures. If we “made the mark” then we would be God. So how can we be counted guilty for not being God?

Like I said, I think our definition of sin needs some work.

So what do I think sin is?

Like most everyone who has come before me, my understanding of sin begins in the Garden. Unlike some, I don’t believe that story needs to be a historical account in order for us to understand how sin “came into the world” and continues to affect our lives because historically accurate or not, sin still exists.

That being said, I think we make a categorical mistake if we think the sin of Adam and Eve was stealing or simply breaking the law.

If we, once again, look to one of my favorite passages in scripture, Philippians 2, Paul tells us exactly what the sin of Adam and Eve was and why it was and continues to be so catastrophically problematic for us today.

In verse 6, Paul describes Jesus’ life by making the point that he “did not consider equality with God something to be exploited.” A better, more literal translation would read “something to be grasped.” Why does that matter? Because Paul, as he does often in his writing, is comparing Jesus, the new Adam, to the old Adam. The old Adam quite literally grasped at equality with God when he and Eve stole the fruit from the forbidden tree for in doing so they believed, or so the serpent told them, they “would become like God.”

Which means the sin of Adam and Eve wasn’t theft.

The sin of Adam and Eve was trying to put themselves, mere creatures, in the place of the Creator as lords of their own lives.

The sin of Adam and Eve was their attempt to become God.

The sin of Adam and Eve was idolatry.

This is why Paul writes in Romans that the wages of sin is death. It’s not because God is mean or vindictive. Nor is it, as some would have us believe, because the sin of a child stealing a cookie from the cookie jar is worthy of death. If that were true, God would indeed be cruel, petty, and quite foreign to the Jesus we encounter in the gospels.

The wages of sin is death, because sin isn’t simply about breaking the law. It’s about a way of life. It’s about declaring, like Adam and Eve, that I know better than God how best to live my life. Because sin is the act of becoming lord, or god, of one’s own life and yet God, as Creator and Sustainer, is the only source of life, when we remove God from our lives, the natural result of removing that source of life is death.

Likewise, it’s not because Adam and Eve committed an act of divine usurpation however long ago that we suffer and are held accountable for sin today. Sin is not a genetic condition that we inherit upon birth. If it was, not only would it be profoundly illogical and disturbingly unfair for us to be held accountable at birth for actions we did not commit, but more problematically, we would have to declare that Jesus, being fully human, must therefore have also been a sinner. While we could debate Jesus’ perfect humanity ad nauseum, let’s just assume for the time being that Jesus being a sinner would create all sorts of problems for orthodoxy Christian understandings of atonement.

The point is, we don’t suffer and are held accountable for sin because of the actions of two strangers eons ago, we suffer and are held accountable for sin because we continue to repeat the actions of those two strangers eons ago – we continue to deceive ourselves into believing we know better than God how life should best we lived. We continue to grasp at the forbidden fruit of divinity and place ourselves on the heavenly throne as if we, mere creatures, are capable of being God.

We grasp at divinity when we decide that taking care of “me and mine” is more important than serving others.

We grasp at divinity when we trust in money rather God as if wealth would give us the control we desire.

We grasp at divinity when we oppress others through violence, manipulation, and exploitation.

And we grasp at divinity whenever we use fear as a weapon of manipulation, rather than love as a means of grace, hope, and liberation.

It is this way of life, this idolatry of the self that is so catastrophically problematic for all of humanity. For in doing so we disrupt and destroy the life God intended for creation and all of us, to one extent or another, at one time or another participate in this destruction.

Which is why the wages of sin is death.

Not because of the law as if legalism still reigns.

Rather, the wages of sin is death because in rejecting God, we reject the life God has given us and no matter how much we may want to deceive ourselves otherwise, we are not capable of sustaining life on our own.

Ultimately, sin in all its forms is an act of idolatry in which we usurp, exploit, manipulate, and oppress the world for our own gain.

And it is that idolatry that Jesus came to atone.

But just how that happened will have to wait until tomorrow.

 

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

 

  • Brian Pike

    Zach, I have loved this Blogomatic series! And I have agreed with many of your points you have made throughout the series, including today. But in your first post, you have encouraged discussion, and so I would like to discuss a couple of topics with regards to ‘original sin’ as you described it today.

    “Sin is not a genetic condition that we inherit upon birth.”
    In our Lutheran tradition, we tend to use Psalm 51:5 – “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” to use as doctrinal proof that original sin exists. I myself think it puts us on shaky ground to use psalms (songs) as doctrinal proof because it would tend to be akin to taking a popular song today and creating doctrine out of it.

    But the verse I cannot escape from thinking about is God himself saying “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood,” (Gen. 8:21). Now on the cursory reading, we could say God’s just being mad. But where the issue comes is that this verse comes right in the middle of one of God’s greatest promises that he will never destroy mankind even though we’re evil from childhood. Which leads me to my next thought…

    “If it was, not only would it be profoundly illogical and disturbingly unfair for us to be held accountable at birth for actions we did not commit, but more problematically, we would have to declare that Jesus, being fully human, must therefore have also been a sinner.”
    We confess in the Creed that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Assuming that we agree to the doctrine of the supernatural conception of Jesus as perfectly God, then we can truthfully declare that Jesus could have been immune to this “genetic condition” that we, as naturally conceived human beings, are exposed to (fair or unfair would make for a very interesting conversation!). But, as full man, he was exposed to the avenues to sin and was tempted in many ways as Paul alludes to in Phil. 2:6. As we read in the Scriptures, however, Jesus always chose the way of his Father; the way that brings life as you have so eloquently laid out.

    • ZackHunt

      Brian,

      Thank you so much for the feedback. I really appreciate it, I’m just sorry it took me so long to get back with you.

      For me the first issue you brought up centers around “inclination”. I think there is a big and important difference between an inclination to sin, or having temptations, and the act of sinning. So I have no problem affirming that we are born with temptations, so was Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with being tempted. But I think that’s all the passage is saying – we have been tempted since birth. To say it is affirming original sin is taking that passage a step further than it goes as it only affirms our inclinations/temptations not our sinful actions.

      As to the latter issue, I don’t see how the Holy Spirit alleviates the problem of original sin. I know Augustine side steps it be attributing original sin to men, thus making Mary sinless and incapable of passing on original sin to Jesus, but honestly that strikes me as unnecessary nonsense. If original sin exists then it plagues both genders and would necessarily be passed on to Jesus. However, that he was tempted but did not sin, to me, speaks to the fact that original sin is an unnecessary doctrine as well as to the fact that the fallen human condition Jesus was born into was one of a propensity to sin, ie a world of temptation, not inbred sin.

      Again, if sin is inbred within us, how or why are we held accountable for it?

      How that clears up my thoughts a bit. And thanks again for the feedback.

  • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ Robert Martin

    One thing I would add to your list of what is sin, when we grasp at divinity…

    …and determine, for ourselves, what is moral and ethical.

    This is beyond just “taking care of me and mine”, it is determining, based upon our own personal choice to be gods ourselves, what is considered a “moral” life. Now, we can debate back and forth on those definitions of morality and such… but ultimately, it comes down to our understanding of what GOD determines is “moral”… and how even that, sometimes, is limited by our humanity.

    But… you know, what you said here in this article… I’m in full agreement. The original sin was simply stating “I am God enough” and then acting on it… and we are continuing that today, in everything we do… and it’s subtleties are woven into the very fabric of our society so that sometimes we do something thinking we’re doing “right” but it really is “wrong” because we have been deceived by all the other voices out there saying, “I am God… listen to me.”

    Thanks, Zach.

  • http://ryanrobinson.ca/ Ryan Robinson

    I really think we need to get away from the legal paradigm for sin (and pretty much everything else that follows from it). I would even argue that the legal paradigm is in itself the fundamental sin: the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The problem is that we know good from evil, or at least think we do, and that gets in the way of extending love. When we judge ourselves and others, we end up with one or two responses: pride or shame. Pride says that I have passed the legal requirements and therefore do not need grace extended to me. Shame says that I am not good enough according to the legal requirements and therefore neither God nor others can love me. Both drive us away from God and being able to bridge that separation is not a matter of saying a prayer for the legal God to forgive the legal offences but is instead a matter of completely changing your outlook on life (that’s what “repent” means) from a legal worldview to a grace worldview.

  • daryl carpenter

    ‘Its not because God is mean or vindictive.’

    Obviously not. No one could read the Old Testament in its entirety and come to such a ridiculous conclusion.

    As Adam and Eve had no concept of right or wrong (they had to eat the fruit to experience that) how can one hold them responsible for idolatry?

    Oh, in Genesis 2 & 3 God doesn’t intend any creation for the rest of us. He just wants a helpmeet for his spiffing new garden. It’s only when he realises the man is lonely that he creates the woman, having already made the animals beforehand (that’s right, to cure Adam’s loneliness God thought it was a better bet to try out the animals on Adam BEFORE creating Eve. Gotta love the forward thinking of the omniscient creator of the universe on that one.) All this suggests that he had no plans for any other human beings, unless he had deliberately planned the couple’s disobedience from the beginning (ah, I love the smell of Calvinism in the morning) But if that’s so, isnt it a bit unfair to hold Adam and Eve responsible for ‘idolatry’ or anything else? God basically stacked the deck against them.

    But it’s only a metaphor. Or is it?

    • Justin Mitchell

      “As Adam and Eve had no concept of right or wrong (they had to eat the fruit to experience that) how can one hold them responsible for idolatry?”

      Well, you’re ignoring the verse where God told the man not to eat from the tree:
      “And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

      “…All this suggests that he had no plans for any other human beings, unless he had deliberately planned the couple’s disobedience from the beginning.”

      What? How does all the stuff about creating animals first suggest that?
      I would say that creating a man and a woman and putting them together, naked, in an idyllic, peaceful garden is a good sign that the creator might want more humans.

      If you were Adam, in the garden, and you were free to do basically anything you want, except there was one single rule to follow (don’t eat from that tree), would you say the “deck was stacked against” you?

      • daryl carpenter

        Hi Justin

        To the question of whether God wanted more human beings or not, I think you’re reading the creation story of Genesis 1 into Genesis 2. They’re actually two different stories. I appreciate this might not evident (bible criticism is the tool of Satan, after all) but it’s in the Genesis 1 that Yahweh tells humans to go forth and multiply, etc. Personally, I don’t think God had any plans for other humans in THIS part of the narrative. I mean, would Adam and Eve procreate as we do, or would God simply create more people by fiat to avoid all the ‘ucky bodily fluid business which many Christians seem to view as a by-product of a fallen world?

        Also, contra Gen 2:17 Adam didn’t die on the day of eating the fruit, unless you define ‘living for another 900 years’ as ‘dying on this day.’ I know one can say he ‘died spiritually’, but nothing in the text really suggests that.

        All this might point in the direction that God was lying and the snake was telling the truth. Utter heresy, of course, but still interesting. In fact, ancient Gnostics read the story in just this manner. In some ways, the snake is a Promethean figure who defies the gods to aid humankind, but ends up suffering for his troubles.

        “If you were Adam, in the garden, and you were free to do basically anything you want, except there was one single rule to follow (don’t eat from that tree), would you say the “deck was stacked against” you?”

        Yes, God told them not to eat, but as they didn’t know the difference between good and evil, and by implication, right and wrong, they unsurprisingly failed.That, I contend, is a bit unfair. It’s like a parent leaving a pair of toddlers alone with a box of razor blades, and then on coming back to find them sliced to ribbons becoming psychotically angry to the point of condemning both to eternal death. It’s a question of responsibility, and I dare say that God should shoulder most of it here. But if the God of the bible is sovereign and beyond reproach, I can see that my interpretation probably won’t be all that popular.

        Of course, God could have circumvented the whole scenario by not putting the tree of knowledge in the garden. Or the talking snake. The snake, I think, was an error of judgement, If I were God (Oh, the idolatry!!) I wouldn’t have allowed any charismatic reptiles with the power of speech anywhere near my garden.

        • Justin Mitchell

          “I mean, would Adam and Eve procreate as we do, or would God simply create more people by fiat to avoid all the ‘ucky bodily fluid business which many Christians seem to view as a by-product of a fallen world?”

          Haha!
          Please tell me you haven’t actually heard Christians say that?

          And for the record (because there’s always a record), I didn’t reference the passage from Genesis 1 at all.

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