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