Sunday, June 01, 2008

What is Sin?

In my series on "What are We?" I said that we don't know who we are and that to discover who we are, we need to discover who God is. The problem with that is sin. In America today, we don't like to talk about sin - except for either communal sins or other peoples' sins. Theological progressives and theological conservatives like to focus on other peoples' sins rather than their own. But the question comes down to what is sin? How do we know what sin is? Is sin a specific act that is "wrong" for some reason? Is the definition of sin an arbitrary one from either God or from the Church?

Or, is sin a state of existence where we are separated from God?

I submit that sin is more our state of existence rather than our specific acts. True, specific acts can lead to separation from God. But why is that?

Well, God is the source of life and light. God caused all existence to be. Sin is turning away from that life. Sin is turning from the author of life. God does not require death as a penalty for sin so much as death is the natural consequence of sin.

One metaphor I like is space travel. I marvel at our ability to make probes enter orbit around planets in the furthest reaches of our solar system. If the probe is even one tenth of one degree off in it trajectory, it will miss its intended target and either collide with something or, more likely, just travel on into the coldness and vacum of space.

Our lives with God are like that. Sin takes us on an eternal trajectory away from God. Without some course correction, we will end up in the cold notingness rather than in orbit around the Son.

So, the penalty for sin is death and lonliness. But that describes the result of sin. How do we know what sin sinful? Well, I believe that we know what is sinful by what God has chosen to reveal in Holy Scripture. So, if we don't lie or have false gods and we obey all the commandments, then we are sinless? Right?

Well, no. I am convinced that the more deadly sins are sins of attitude and will, not of action. We put our own wills and desires above what God has revealed to us and we put ourselves in the place of God. This is more deadly to us than any lie could be - well, it is a lie itself. It is saying that we can be like God. In fact, it is the First Lie (Gen 3:5).

Sin is more a state of rebellion against God. It is not just doing right or failing to do wrong Sin cna be found in doing the right thing for the wrong reasons and in doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. It seems that we can't escape sin or sinning.

Now, here is what I call the Great Paradox of Christianity. We want to be "like God" by our own devices. We want God's life and we tried to take it and to take God's role. In doing so, we fall and fail. We end up dark and alone in nothingness. But (and here is the paradox) God wants to give us His life. God wants to make us "like God." We can't grasp God's gift of eternal life, we can only receive it! That is one of the meanings of Grace - God's gift of New Life and the strength to live that new life from God's resources, not from our own. This gift of New Life comes to us because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jesus didn't come to make us nice. He didn't come to eliminate poverty or racism or wars or to establish Justice. Jesus came to make us New. He came so that we could die with him and be raised in newness of life with him. Jesus came to give us that new life that only God can give.

Phil Snyder


Robert said...

Hey Phil:

"Jesus didn't come to make us nice. He didn't come to eliminate poverty or racism or wars or to establish Justice."

The problem with saying that, although it is technically true, is that people tend to take Christ's forgiveness as carte blanche to be bad. People generally are all for grace, they just aren't all for the attendant response to grace.

If you take the Lord's forgiveness seriously, then you will work to reduce poverty, racism, wars and injustice. It is not necessary to diminish the effects of godliness just in order to acknowledge the source of godliness, which is not in ourselves. That's like liking the apples but not the apple cider. :)

plsdeacon said...

The question is what is the goal? Is the goal the elimination of injustice, racism, and poverty or is the goal the renewal of all creation by the gift of New Life given through Jesus Christ?

One of the problems I see with the progressives is that they emphasize the first - the elimination of injustice in all its forms - without recourse to the second.

All too often we don't want to hear that, implicit in receiving God's grace, is the call to "die daily to sin." When Jesus said "pick up your cross" he did not mean be ready to endure hardship or suffering. Jesus calls us to die to self so we can be raise to new life. That transformation to new life is what enables us to work to eliminate injustice, poverty, or any other social sins.

Phil Snyder

Robert said...

How did he not mean the cross to imply suffering? The numbers of early leaders of the Church who were martyred were legion. Indeed it is hardly possible to interpret the reference to the cross, symbol of torture let us remember, without recourse to the concept of suffering.

Let us also remember the words immediately after this quotation, which are "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Now, we aren't all called to be martyred, though there are people martyred even today. We are all called upon to suffer.

Perhaps the conservatives and progressives need to drop their stones and start learning from each other. :) Not unlike the Catholics and Protestants, each holding grimly to their own half of gospel truth while denying the other half. Faith and works, grace and suffering, reverence and justice.

plsdeacon said...

I do not deny that suffering can be sanctifing, but as I read Jesus' words "Take up your cross," I don't read "be ready to suffer." I read "be ready to die."

I don't necessarily see this as a progressive/conservative issue. I think of it as a basic mis-understanding.

We often talk about our "crosses to bear" in minimalistic terms. "I'm losing my hair, but that's just my cross to bear" or "My coworkers are jerks, but that's just my cross to bear." We don't want to hear the call to die to self and die to sin so that we can be raised to new life.

I'll have more to say on what I find to be the American Heresy (of which this minimization of suffering or death is just a symptom) later today.

Phil Snyder