Saturday, April 23, 2005

The 'Big Picture' series - 2: Sin

Practicality: Sin is rooted in selfishness or idolatry, and is ultimately harmful for us and others because it is opposed to loving God and loving others. For this reason, God wants to free us from sin to restore these relationships, for these healthy relationships cannot occur where there is selfishness or idolatry.

If all God’s commands can be distilled into two; to love God, and to love others, then sin is surely a failure to do this. This is not love in the romantic or emotional sense, but in a practical sense. As Jesus taught, a person always loves something or someone at the sacrifice of love for other things or people (Mat 6:24). So, I suggest that sin ultimately due to loving things other than God or people. The Bible lists many of the ways in which people do this, such as disobedience, greed, coveting, and failure to help or be fair, and the list goes on. However, it seems failure to love God and people is due to two main causes – loving things (idolatry), and loving one’s self rather than God or others (selfishness).

Oddly, many seem to treat sin as something God has a real problem with – in and of itself. “God is Holy,” they say, “and so cannot tolerating being in the presence of sin.” Yet, Jesus spent much of his time with sinners. Indeed, the ideas of God not wanting to be around sin is almost the opposite of what we see in Jesus, and far more reflected in the current attitudes of so-called Christians. These ideas stem from a false conception of the nature of sin, for sin is not something God has a problem with – but something we have a problem with. Sin is harmful to us and others, and it is because of this that God hates it. He does not hate it simply because He is some spotlessly pure being who cannot tolerate the thought that sinners may dirty His clothes, He hates it because it hurts the people He loves. The hurt of sin is not only physical pain, but damage to relationships, and relationships are arguably the most important things in life. Relationships are the framework in which Jesus summed up God’s instructions – love God, and love others – love is essential to good relationships.

Some current ideas suggest that somehow, through some action of Jesus, God can now accept us AND our sin – as if sin is some kind of baggage that we carry in large suitcases. I think such ideas miss the point, because we are still hurt by the sin we do, and God wants us to be free of the sin. The importance of our sin is not the guilt, it is the consequence. We must realise that God wants us to be free from sin, not merely to leave us being hurt by it.

The damage of sin is subtle, but dramatic. Perhaps the reason we no longer understand God’s perspective on sin well is because we try to interpret in from an individualistic mindset, rather than a relational one. When life is about me, my sin hardly matters for I can do what I want – my life is all about me; but when life is about others, my sin matters a great deal. Too often, we view sin as the objectionable baggage that God must graciously overlook because we are thinking of ourselves. “Sin is something that stops God from liking ME.” “God please forgive my sin,” (so that I don’t have to renounce it). No, we should not be viewing sin as something that is stopping God from loving us – it is because of His love for us that He wants us to stop sinning! God has a relational mindset, where sin is something that damages relationships – the most priceless things God has blessed us with. Sin damages our relationship with God not because God cannot love us as much, but because selfishness causes us to not love God as much. Likewise, idolatry causes us to love Him less. Sin is not loving others as we should – and therefore it is bad for our relationships with others.

At its core, sin is about putting us first – about caring more about ourselves at the sacrifice of our love for God and others. So, how can we view sin as something that we need to be pardoned so that we can be loved and accepted more? Such a view is childish, for it is still focussed on self-interest! Rather, sin is something that we need to forsake so that we can love and accept others more – because sin comes from selfishness and righteousness from selflessness. The focus should be on giving love, and not on merely getting what we want. God has already given us an amazing example in Christ of sin-less, self-less character, for He loved people not for His benefit, but for theirs.

Idolatry is similar in effect to selfishness, in that it hinders our love for God and others. Instead of loving who we should be, we love things. God never told us to love things, He told us to love relational beings – Himself and people. Thus, idolatry is similarly in contrast to the righteous love that God commands. One may think, “Idolatry is hardly common in the Western culture, but it is surely more in the East where they have small statues that they pray to.” What a narrow view of idolatry! A thing does not need to be carved in wood or stone to be an idol. In Western culture, we love all manner of things, like fashion, looks, money, fame, power or business. These things are not bad in themselves – some can even be good – but they become sin when they detract from our love for God and others. Certainly, we are an idolatrous society because we too often focus far more on things than we do on God and other people. Such things are not sinful, it is our neglect of what is important and what is right that is sinful. For we only have a certain number of hours in the day, and a certain amount of resources and if we commit them to things we forfeit giving them for God and others.

I believe that the ideas about sin I have tried to present here have helped me understand the Scriptures and God’s heart more, and I hope they do the same for you. More posts related to this topic will follow.

17 comments:

Kelly said...

NICE. Very good post.

Conservation Terms said...

Very good blog. I was able to find the time to stop by. You will most definitely be added to my dial-a-site. Have a great day, and thanks for stopping by my blog,
-CT

Katherine said...

:)

Andrew said...

Excellent post, one of the best I have seen in a long time.

Andrew said...
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Andrew said...
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Nato said...

If this is true, why does God take it apon himself to punish sins? If sin is bad because of consequences, surely God punishing people is (a) redundant, in that people are already suffer from sins and (b) cruel, in that he is adding suffering to those already suffering.

I'm thinking God's Judgement presents an issue you need to cover before you can conclude that sin is to do with us, and not God.

A random question, vaguely relating to your division between idolatry and selfishness - is it possible to Love others over God?

incognito said...

Nato:

1: Regarding judgement

Your first question is a little too general and presumptuous - and ignores His grace completely, but nevertheless finds a simple answer - God does not like sin... and I think that is due to the reasons I have given. I thought this would be an obvious point.

Your statements in a) and b) are somewhat missing the point... not to mention of dubious logic and assumption about the nature of God's character. I'm not sure whether you are meaning on earth or on the Day of Judgement. If you mean on earth, here and now, I would point you to verses that also show He is kind and gracious to both the righteous and the wicked. Occasionally, He intervenes, but often He does not.

Yet, is it not loving for a father to discipline his child so that the child develops into a loving adult? Certainly, it is painful for a time, but ultimately beneficial. Or, is it loving for God to allow sinners to continue to harm others, especially His people? Yet, in His grace He is patient.

If, however, you mean the Day of Judgement, that is entirely different and pertains more to the fact that at that time God will tolerate sin no more - and thus put an end to it and those who do it. Yet again, though, it is ultimately because sin is bad for people's relationships with each other and with God.

The punishment you imply is not a Godly kind of punishment, but suggests 'punishment' for sins is without purpose, or if it is with purpose it would only be of a vindictive nature, which I feel is unfitting of God.

In summary I see no disagreement with my view of sin and God's dealings with it, and you'll have to explain your point far more convincingly to persuade me otherwise.

Also, I intend to cover the topic of God's Judgement in a future post (there are many more in this series that I'm slowly working on).


2: Yes, it is possible and common to love others over God. It is also not what God said to do.

Andrew said...

Nath,

Well in Romans 1 (and elsewhere), the way God punishes people for their sins is described as the fact that he "gives them over" to their sins - ie lets them experience the consequences of it without acting to protect them from those consequences. If Paul is right in this then it would seem that a large part of God punishing people consists of precisely letting the consequences of people's own sin happen.

God giving out punishments does generally seem cruel to me. But why do you think it's somehow okay due to your conception of sin and not okay if Reuben's is true?

I believe that it is sometimes necessary for God to punish out of mercy:
1. If a society is evil and leading its children astray and hurting its neighbours, then it is a mercy for those it is hurting to destroy it. If you want to rescue the oppressed, the simplist way to do it is to smite the oppressors.
2. If someone is stuck in a self-destructive cycle of sin, the best way to help them can be to take drastic action to ensure they cease the behaviour.

I think Reuben's conception of sin ultimately provides a very sound motive for God's opposition to sin and inflicting judgement and punishment: God loves his creation and hates that which destroys and corrupts it, and God has hence set himself to fight against sin and those who align themselves with it. Thus God has every reason punish people in order to teach them not to sin and/or stop the spread of sin and/or eradicate sin from his creation.

Katherine said...

Although when a father disciplines his child, he normally does a little speech like 'now I'm only doing this because I love you, and here's the reasons why I don't want you to do that again.' If he doesn't, then the kid just thinks he's been beaten up. Does God actually give an explanation when He smites people? Or are our consciences supposed to do the explaining for us? Or does He not have to explain if it's 'for the greater good' or whatever?

nato said...

Previous comment had an error, so here it as again: (Reubz, can you delete the old one, I'm not sure if I can)

So according to this framework, as you guys have said, God is right in judging to (a) prevent the said individual from sinning, or (b) attempt to release others from the influence of the sin or (c) with the punishment being the result of sin itself (which is arguably not judgement). Therefore I go away to see if I can dig up some evidence for judgement that does not fit within these two. (I shall pay attention to God's explanation for such also, as per KT's suggestion)

So, if I can find evidence for such, I can doubt your framework for sin, If I can't find evidence for such, I'm pretty bad at looking, so it doesn't really tell us anything :), though some may say this provides evidence for your framework.

In the meantime, isn't it circular logic to say that the judgement I imply is vindictive? It is only vindictive if you use your framework. What I'm saying is that your framework for sin, and the framework I present for judgement are incompatable (because they lead to a vindictive God), therefore one of them is wrong.

So anyway, I guess I will await your judgement post with anticipation. (hehe... pun intended)

Lastly, the reason why I don't find such punishment inconsistent is that if sin is defined rather as rebellion against God (and hence against his purposes to Love others), then he is well within his rights to smite people when they rebel against him.

Christina said...

great post, ruebz. I'm really liking this series! Very interesting concepts here

Mike said...

Hurrah! Great post :)

incognito said...

Nato,

Evidently I am not presenting my points very clearly, so perhaps you'll have to await the post on Judgement.

I assume you are talking about God's actions regarding sin in the world, rather than on Judgement Day.

"So according to this framework, as you guys have said, God is right in judging to (a) prevent the said individual from sinning, or (b) attempt to release others from the influence of the sin or (c) with the punishment being the result of sin itself (which is arguably not judgement)."

I agree, mostly. (c) is inaccurate in that it suggest God is "punishing" them, whereas I would suggest it is simply the harmful effect of sin and that God would in fact want them to repent and be liberated from their sin, returning to obedience. But sometimes the wicked do not repent, so what can God do but to "hand them over to their sin".

" Therefore I go away to see if I can dig up some evidence for judgement that does not fit within these two."

Good luck, if you find anything do tell me.

"So, if I can find evidence for such, I can doubt your framework for sin"

No, through such study you can doubt your framework of judgement or your logic, but you'll need to address what the Bible says about SIN to doubt my framework of sin.


"If I can't find evidence for such, I'm pretty bad at looking, so it doesn't really tell us anything :)"

On the contrare - it would suggest you've found no basis for your contradiction of my framework of sin.


I'd just like to point out that seem to be presenting an idea of Judgment that's like God saying: "You have disobeyed/rebelled, so as payment for that past action, I'll punish you now or in the future." The idea I'm presenting would be more like God saying: "You are disobeying/rebelling, which is bad now and has bad consequences for the future, so I'll do something about it because of my care for the world."

In other words, your idea seems lay heavy emphasis on payment, as if there is no underlying cause for God's action except for some cosmic book-keeping that demands badness be punished. Clearly then, it is difficult to find a LOVING motivation for such punishment - hence my conclusion that it is more vindictive than loving.

"What I'm saying is that your framework for sin, and the framework I present for judgement are incompatable (because they lead to a vindictive God), therefore one of them is wrong."

Yes, well recognised, and I am clearly suggesting your idea of Judgment is what is leading you to a non-sensible conclusion.


My understanding of how God acts regarding sin one of correction. For example, look at Nineveh - they repented and God did NOT punish them because it was not longer required. Or, where the righteous are being oppressed by the wicked and the wicked do not repent, God has few options but to eliminate the wicked or, in the case of Babylon, liberate the righteous.

"...the reason why I don't find such punishment inconsistent is that if sin is defined rather as rebellion against God... then he is well within his rights to smite people when they rebel against him."

Look at what you've written... IF sin is defined as rebellion, He is well within HIS RIGHTS to smite them. In case you hadn't picked it up, God does not operate based on RIGHTS, He operates based on what IS RIGHT. I am suggesting my framework explains why God's actions toward sin are indeed right, whereas your framework offers no such explaination.

Forgive me for sounding harsh, but I just don't see any basis in your assumptions or your logic.

Andrew said...

It seems to me you guys are talking past each other.

Nathan, I object to your list and would want to add: (d) it is reasonable for God to destroy someone because of their sin. God hates sin because it destroys his creation, sin is his "enemy". Hence anyone who allies themselves with sin is God's enemy, and God can destroy them because of that if necessary. So finding an example of God doing that isn't going to prove anything.

It seems to me that the main difference between the positions is the question of whether it is okay to punish someone for a crime after a person has ceased sinning. According to a guilt-punishment theory such as Nathan appears to hold, the guilt still remains after the sin is over with and punishment needs to be/can be dealt out. According to Reuben's sin theory, God shouldn't be punishing people after their sin has ceased (save perhaps, to teach others).

nato said...

Minor correction: "...Nathan appears to hold..." -> "...Nathan is arguing..."

I'm not sure what view I hold :) (which probably contributes to reuben and myself talking past each other)