Monday, September 26, 2011

What is sin? 2

I want to shift my blogging energies a little, so may finish this one more intermittently... maybe on Sundays.

Where is God?
Questionable Explanations
What is evil?
Pain is not Evil
What is sin? 1
What is sin? 2
Does God tempt? 1
Does God tempt? 2

What is sin continued...
It is also important for us to recognize the standard by which these intentions were measured.  The New Living Translation imposes later theological categories on Romans 3:23 when it translates it to say that all have fallen short of "God's glorious standard," as if the problem is the fact that we cannot be perfect.   More likely, Paul was saying that human lack the glory that God intended them to have in Psalm 8.

There are at least two respects in which the rhetoric many Christians use in relation to sin is out of focus.  First, we have a tendency to put more emphasis on one argument Paul makes than I am convinced he himself did.  This is the "no one can keep every law their entire life; therefore, we are entirely guilty" argument.  True, Paul does say all have sinned in Romans 3 and Galatians 3:19 does seem to make an argument something like this.

But Paul's purpose here is not to give a systematic theological statement.  He is backing up his claim that we all need Christ's atonement--little more.  He certainly is not saying that we are guilty of every law (a mistaken interpretation even of James 2:10).  He is not saying we are totally depraved (that there is no good in us whatsoever). He is simply stating something everyone would have agreed with at the time--all humanity needs atonement.

Those who say they do not are deceiving themselves, are making God a liar (1 John 1:8, 10).  That is what all these statements amount to.  Later theologians like Augustine and Calvin systematized and absolutized passing arguments in Paul.  However, we will inevitably get Paul out of focus if we use such passages as the starting point for understanding God's character in relation to justice.

A second difference to keep in mind is how introspective modern Westerners have become in our individualistic, post-Romantic context. We can self-analyze our motives and intentions in a way that neither Jesus or Paul came close to assuming.  Even the level of Christian perfection John Wesley had in mind went far too introspective for the standards of Jesus' day, causing not only many Wesleyans since but Wesley himself sometimes to torture themselves in an unhealthy inward focus.

The result is a lot of distraction with regard to what is important about the category of sin, which is one's intent to do wrong or to do things contrary to a heart devoted to God.  Sin and evil are most meaningful concepts when we are talking about our intentions toward others and the extent to which we filter our lives through true devotion to God.  Sin as any imperfection, as unintentional wrongdoing--these have a place in a systematic treatment but are not particularly helpful in sorting out how to live a righteous life.

This also leads us to a massive myth that is widely circulated these days--that all sin is sin.  This idea has absolutely no biblical basis at all in terms of the life of a believer.  True, when we first come to Christ, any sin we have in the past amounts to breaking our relationship with God. In that sense we might say that all sin is sin for our pre-Christian past.  But the New Testament nowhere treats all sin after justification as equal.  Not only does Paul dispense different consequences for different sins, but some sins can keep a person from inheriting the kingdom of God (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The key once again is intention, a fact usually missed by the pop notion that all sin is the same.  As in a relationship with other people, some wrongs can break a relationship while others only damage it a little.  There is a vast difference between forgetting an anniversary and having an affair.  It is this way in our relationship with God.  There is a vast difference between losing our temper with someone because we have not had enough sleep and murdering millions of Christians in the name of atheism.  To suggest these two sins would be the same in God's eyes is patently ludicrous.

By the same token, emotions are not, in themselves, sinful.  As someone once said, "Emotions are neither good nor bad; they just are."  True, you can choose to act in a sinful way because you are angry--"Be angry and do not sin" (Eph. 4:26).  And you can subtly err by setting yourself up for wrongdoing because of your emotions.  You can miss sleep or food.

The level of intention is again the measure of the degree of wrongdoing.  If you know certain courses of action make you more susceptible to do wrong and you do not change, then your intention is involved.  And if your intention is involved, then we get into the realm of morality and evil.

This discussion relates to the question of evil and suffering because it gets in front of us exactly what we are asking.  The questions of evil and pain are questions about God's intentions, not questions of how bad these things feel or how horrendous an effect they have.  When we consider evil and sin in terms of the consequence, measured against an absolute standard of perfection, we are not asking the right question.  These are questions of God's intentions.  Suffering and pain in themselves, the effect of moral evil, are not evil.  They are just rather unpleasant.

Next Sunday: Why does God allow evil?


Angie Van De Merwe said...

"devotion to "God"" and "murdering millions of Christians n the name of atheism".....

Are these your two principles of judging intention? Of course, they would be since you have chosen "the Church".

What if "atheism" is an attempt to keep Christians from doing things that aren't healthy, or beneficial to their well-being? Don't you think that beliefs that cause you to think, do or say things that are irrational are also hurtful?

The atheist I have listened to base their arguments not on a text or tradition, but on understanding the disciplines that are useful to the "human condition", such as psychology, etc.

Much evil comes from believing that you are doing "God's will" when you discipline, murder, ostericize, others in the name of some "God"! And the intention is self deluded "love", or "moral concern"!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Evil also happens from Statist policies, so religion is not the only culprit of evil.

Statism is an absolute sovereign ruling over another's life, which does not allow the individual free choice.

FrGregACCA said...

Ken, I feel like that there is a need to consider the existential, concrete aspects of negative behavior, regardless of intention.

I believe strongly that this is the real issue. For example: I'm driving down the highway. I am sober. I am obeying the speed limit. A child runs out into the road. I strike the child who is hurt or even dies.

According to intention, I am innocent of any "sin". However, I have certainly "missed the mark" and there is real existential mess that must be cleaned up.

So, I am not "guilty", but I bear a certain responsibility to the family of this child. Hopefully, I am insured.

Likewise, Christ is less concerned about "guilt" and way more concerned about "healing".

"Trust God, clean house, help others".

JohnM said...

All-sin-is-the-same is, as you said, a massive myth, and ludicrous. A myth sometimes convienient to sinners, sometimes paralysing to the church.

But intentions. With regard to intentions, is the emphasis degrees of sin here, or sin vs not sin? Does not the root cause of my attitude matter regardless of my decision to act or not act?

I'm mad at my neighbor and with malice aforethough throw a rock through his window. Or, in a fit of anger, without much thought, I throw a rock through his window, but wouldn't have done it if I had given myself a moment to calm down and think. Or, I want to throw the rock, but don't only because my neighbor looks like an NFL lineman, and his brother's a cop. Or, I throw rocks for fun, fully aware of, but indifferent to, the possibilty of breaking windows and I break one. Or I throw rocks, trying to be careful not to break any windows, but I do anyway. Or I throw rocks for fun with with no thought or expectation as to what might follow and I break a window.

I don't think I'm entirely innocent in any of the above cases.

Is it a sin to even imagine unlovely scenarios where rocks are thrown at windows? Is that the introspection you're talking about? ;)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"sin" is a word for the Church's use. Since 'sin' is the domain of the church, then, what they define as sin is sin. Problem is, churches disagree, because these are issues of conscience. But the church doesn't like the color grey, they deal in black and white, because then it is easier to judge and make the distinction about who is "in" (those who agree with their definitions) and those who don't. The one's who dare to counter, question of have a different opinion is an outsider to the "faith".

Crime, though, is against the State. And one is innocent until proven guilty. Therefore the right to a trial, before one is judged and convicted, not so in the Church! and past sins can bias the church against people.

davey said...

As I have stated before, I reckon it is a mistake to say distress is not a moral evil. Why is the expectation of people that in the kingdom there will be no distress?

Ken Schenck said...

Davey, I am distinguishing distress and such as an effect of moral evil rather than a cause and that distress can be caused by things other than evil, as I am defining it. This is not to say that evil could not be legitimately defined in other ways, only that for my purposes, this narrower definition is more helpful.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Evil is also defined by those that use it in opposition to their standard (or definiton of "the good"). So, whatever you start from, is what one considers "good", therefore, whatever is in oppositon to it is considered "evil".

Some Christians define "God as the only Good", therefore, whatever he commands is to be obeyed. This means that we aren't to question scripture, but obey it. Since one begins with "God" as defined by the Protestant scripture, then, "evil" is not doing what the text says. "Good" isn't understood any other way. Those that suffer are under "God's judgment" because they have not lived their life under the "commands of God". Since the "end" is "God's Kingdom", then, there can be no other goal, or purpose, but "God's Kingdom".

Others believe that "good" is a term that has various meanings depending on one's context and values. "Good" is recognizable apart from "God". So one does not have to be a Christian to do "good". A teacher might have a student in his or her classroom that is struggling to measure up to class standards. The "good" in this instance is investigating, or "caring about the situation". The teacher might choose to talk with the child, call the parents for a conference, etc. A businessman invests his monies into his company and makes a profit, instead of holding all the profit for himself, he shares with his companies' employees. These are things that are not required, but are considered "good". The "good" can't be co-erced, as "good" is an act that is chosen because of values from within, not mandates from without!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I must add another view, as it is n the "tradition" of the Church. It is the position that whatever the Magesterium say it "the good", is the good.

This view is authoritarian, whether it is the decision of The Pope in the Western Church, or the "Bishops" in the Eastern Church. Both have a hierarchal structuring, which is a top down definition of "the good".

America does not allow for defined definitions concerning "the good", as the individual must decide what is "the good", depending on his own vocation, priorities, and interests.

Therefore, it is much more difficult to make a judgment about "the good" in America, because we don't limit what "the good" is. There are many "goods" that people can, should and do seek out The difference is that the indivdual is the one that chooses what "the good" means.

davey said...

Thanks for your reply, Ken. I am concerned that your narrow definition leaves out too much!

Angie Van De Merwe said...


Moral evil as an effect is the "for evil to prevail, good men do nothing". This is an action oriented focus, which the piestic types value. Such actions are promoting "compassion".

Moral evil as a cause can be the result of piestic types or "compassionate types" dominating another kind of "being in the world". Human action must a be self chosen and a self directed goal of some kind. Without liberty, one cannot choose, and moral evil prevails because it dominates.

The first values the law, while the other values liberty.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

In the religious context, the law defines sin, therefore, those churches or peoples who like to define their "faith" within the political realm, will love "the law".

Those that prefer to affirm liberty of consicence leave room for diversity.

The first is when religious or moral concerns rule over everyone's conscience, through legislation, whereas, America is the example of liberty of conscience!

Certainly, everyone agrees that without laws, there is no "order", but when laws, usurp basic liberties of another, then moral has become perverted.