Sunday, August 17, 2014

E5. All have sinned.

Now the fifth and final post in the third section of theology in bullet points on the nature of evil.
"All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23, my translation).

1. Wesleyans would distinguish two areas in which we might consider sin. The previous entry discussed the one, what we might call a "sin nature." We argued in the previous entry, however, that it would be more Pauline to speak of a Sin power that exists over the world. Humans have a propensity to sin because our flesh is weak and Adam's sin brought Sin as a power over the world.

This Sin power is a consequence of Adam's sin in traditional theology. But we are not judged for Adam's sin, since we did not commit it. We merely experience the consequences of it, serious as they are. We all commit sin acts because our default state is one of susceptibility to sin. We are guilty because we do the same acts Adam did, not because we have inherited guilt from him. [1]

The theory of evolution presents some problems for this traditional analysis. So many Christians who object to evolution do so on the basis of Genesis 1. But Genesis 1 is a poetic presentation of creation in dialog with other ancient creation stories. It is probably an incorrect reading of it in the first place to think it is in dialog with such theories at all.

The question of evil is by far the greatest theological problem in relation to evolution. If a person believes that Adam was a literal person at the end of a long evolutionary process, who still literally sinned and brought the power of Sin into the world, the greatest theological question has to do with the nature of the world before Adam. A previous article brainstormed a little in relation to this question. Basically, death might be seen more along the lines of Genesis 3 itself, where eternal life was apparently something that would have been added to Adam rather than something taken away.

Presumably one might interpret the weakness of human flesh in a similar way. Perhaps one could say that the power to overcome self-interest was always something the Spirit needed to provide for humanity. One might say that Adam's sin prevented the Spirit from doing something he was going to do rather than taking away something humanity intrinsically had before.

The idea that the Adam story was a poetic expression of the human propensity to sin, but that he was not a literal person, presents our theology of sin (our "hamartiology") with the greatest challenge. Now we would have to suggest that the human propensity to sin was somehow part of the fundamental set up, apart from Satan and his angels. This is no problem for the hyper-Calvinist, who thinks God has directly commanded every sin anyone has ever committed anyway.

For the Wesleyan-Arminian it is more difficult. Perhaps we would have to say that God created us all with an impulse to do that which is in our own self-interest. This impulse would be a good impulse in many respects, because it would motivate us to self-preservation. It would motivate us toward excellence. We would have been created to walk with God and thereby to receive the moment by moment power not to violate him or others in our self-interest.

The fundamental problem of Sin would then come from our default separation from God and from his power to do the good, not from something that changed in our nature. Further, the collective separation of humanity would then exacerbate our propensity toward self-interest over God and others even more. The fundamental dynamic of salvation then becomes one of reconciliation and re-empowerment.

Whatever the source, it is clear that "human nature" currently has a propensity to act in self-interest over and against God and others. We can call this, somewhat figuratively, our "sin nature."

2. As a result of our sin nature, we commit "sin acts." We have hopefully begun to get some sense of what sin is in the articles that precede. Sin "properly so called" is an intentional act of mind or body that is contrary to the love of God or the love of others. We know the good we ought to do and we intentionally do not do it (Jas. 4:17) or we know we shouldn't do bad and we intentionally do it anyway.

We can, of course, wrong God or others without intending to do so. We can harm another human being by accident. We can try to take over God's rightful authority without thinking about it. True, there are those who would rationalize their behavior and their intentions. There is a human tendency to say, "I didn't know" or "I didn't intend" or "It was an accident" when in fact we are guilty of intent.

God is not fooled. The fact that we cannot always tell a person's true motives--indeed, the fact that we are prone to self-deception--does not negate the fundamental definitions. God knows, and that is all that matters. God is the one who can divide soul and spirit, who can judge the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).

Sin is thus not to fall short of absolute perfection. It is defined in contrast to God's true standard in the New Testament--love of God and neighbor. And it is judged primarily in terms of intention. There is such a thing as unintentional sin. But our moral culpability before God is overwhelmingly a matter of intentional sin. In our previous article, we argued that self-interest stands at the heart of most if not all sin.

There are thus also degrees of sin. The greater our intention to act contrary to God and others, the greater the sin.

3. All humans act in their own self-interest. Even self-deprecation is a twisted cry for less pain. Even suicide is an act meant to relieve oneself of life's burdens. We are tempted to sin when our self-interest conflicts with the rightful interests of God and others.

There is a kind of depravity that gets pleasure out of the pain of others. This, and full defiance of God, are the most atrocious of sins because they are most in violation of God and others. These highest of high handed sins approach the domain of what is often called the unpardonable sin.

Theologically, we might rather say that those who commit such sins have entered a territory of evil from which they will never return. Theologically, it is not that God would not forgive them if they repented. It is that they are incapable of repentance. God has long withdrawn his offer of empowerment for repentance because they have scorned and rejected it. There is a special category of justice for such deprivation.

All have sinned. We have all, at some point or another in our lives, crossed the line between what is ours and what is God's or what is our due to others as people created in the image of God. We have lost the glory God intended us to have. We have instead become shameful. We stand separated from God and the power to move beyond our self-interest.

All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God.

[1] This is somewhat of a departure from the traditional way of speaking of inherited guilt. But it is both truer to Paul and more coherent theologically.

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