I know a lot of left wing Christians prefer the language of injustice over the language of sin but I’m of the view that in conversations with right wing Christians we need to be framing injustices as sin a whole lot more. It’s the language they understand. We need to state boldly that sacrificing the environment to Mammon is a form of idolatry, and consequently, sinful; that animal cruelty is sinful; that spreading misinformation and slander is sinful; that oppressing the vulnerable, including the foreigner, is sinful; that not paying workers a living wage is sinful; that stealing from future generations is sinful; and that there is no love of God or of others in ignoring this. Yet we also need to be humble and admit our own sins, lest we fall into self righteousness.
If you want to know what the Bible has to say about racism and other forms of discrimination, just search for words like “favouritism” and “partiality” and you’ll find more than enough.
Consider for instance Deuteronomy 10:17-18 which says, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” There’s no room for racism here in the law of Moses. Nor is the New Testament any less insistent. In passages like Acts 10:34 and Romans 2:11 we are explicitly told that “God does not show favouritism” and cares for foreigners every bit as much as the Hebrews.
Other forms of discrimination, like classism, are also forbidden. Consider James 2:2-4 where we are told, “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” We are explicitly told this is evil.
Sin is a much misunderstood concept. Often because we Christians explain it badly. We talk about sin as if it’s simply the pursuit of bad things. But it’s not. It’s more often the pursuit of good things as if they’re ultimate things, and in the process missing out on what is truly best in life. It’s about falling short of what life has to offer because you’re setting your sights too low.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the word. The word we most frequently translate as sin is the Hebrew word chatá and its Greek equivalent hamartia, both meaning missing the mark. The term originated in archery and was often associated with Greek tragedy.
So, here’s the tragedy that the scriptures seek to enlighten us with: God wants so much more for you!
Is this how you imaging Eve? In researching Christian art I frequently come across highly sexualized interpretations of the temptation of Eve, with artists playing up the possibility that original sin was related to sexual knowledge.
Often this atmosphere is eccentuated by having the snake draped over Eve in ways not normally witnessed outside of exotic nightclubs.
However, given that God instituted marriage in Genesis 2, before sin emerged in Genesis 3, it is clear that this view is seriously unscriptural; that sex was originally sacred, not sinful; that God, not Satan, sexed Eve and Adam up for one another. If sin is related to sex, it is only in the way sin distorted sex.
Sacred is sex without self-centredness.
I have not been able to track down the artist who painted this image of Eve’s temptation, but it is clear that considerable artistic licence has been taken. This picture features Gene Simmon of KISS as the snake and a rock guitar as the apple.
Amusing on one level, but it uncomfortably reminds me of the Satanic Panics of the 80s, which put me on the opposite side of the fence to many evangelicals of the time.
There has been a great discussion going on over at the Pagan and Christian Moot over our different understandings of sin, so I thought I would provide space for conversation here at Curious Christian as well. The comment of mine that generated the most response was this:
“… I think it is a mistake to interpret sin only in judicial terms. Many metaphors are used in the New Testament and judicial metaphors only form a subset. Sin can also be defined in terms of broken relationships, social sickness, powerlessness in the face of addiction, etc. Personally, given my interest in counselling, I quite like metaphors related to healing and empowerment, freedom from bondage and dysfunction.”
I wonder if this has any resonance for you, or if you would take other approaches as well? I recall Tim Keller putting it something like this: we need to contextualize the gospel for both the churched and the unchurched. The churched readily understand sin in terms of morality, of doing bad things and failing to do good things. But the unchurched more easily understand sin in terms of idolatry, of making good things ultimate things, and being enslaved by them. Freedom from the things that enslave me, from the drug of ego-centredness, that is something I can relate to.
What is your understanding of sin? I recently found myself involved in a conversation amongst non-Christians about sin and how they understood it. In his article, The Gospel in All Its Forms, Tim Keller suggests Christians need to be able to speak about it in different ways to different people. I would love to hear of your experiences but firstly, here is what he says:
Just as Paul spoke about a gospel for the more religious
(the “circumcised”) and for the pagan, so I’ve found that my audience in Manhattan contains both those
with moralist, religious backgrounds and those with
postmodern, pluralistic worldviews.
There are people from other religions (Judaism, Islam)
and people with strong Catholic backgrounds, as well
as those raised in conservative Protestant churches.
People with a religious upbringing can grasp the idea
of sin as the violation of God’s moral law. That law
can be explained in such a way that they realize they
fall short of it. In that context, Christ and his salvation
can be presented as the only hope of pardon for
guilt. This, the traditional evangelical gospel of the
last generation, is a “gospel for the circumcised.”
However, Manhattan is also filled with postmodern
listeners who consider all moral statements to be culturally
relative and socially constructed. If you try to
convict them of guilt for sexual lust, they will simply
say, “You have your standards and I have mine.” If
you respond with a diatribe on the dangers of relativism,
your listeners will simply feel scolded and distanced.
Of course, postmodern people must at some
point be challenged about their mushy views of truth,
but there is a way to make a credible and convicting
gospel presentation to them even before you get into
such apologetic issues.
I take a page from Søren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness
Unto Death and define sin as building your identity—
your self-worth and happiness—on anything other
than God. That is, I use the biblical definition of sin
as idolatry, which puts the emphasis not as much on
“doing bad things” as on “making good things into
Instead of telling these listeners they are sinning because
they are sleeping with their girlfriend or boyfriend,
I tell them that they are sinning because they
are looking to their romances to give their lives
meaning, to justify and save them, to give them what
they should be looking for from God. This idolatry
leads to anxiety, obsession, envy, and resentment. I
have found that when you describe their lives in
terms of idolatry, postmodern people do not resist
much. Then Christ and his salvation can be presented
not (at this point) so much as their only hope for forgiveness
but as their only hope for freedom. This is
my “gospel for the uncircumcised.”
What is the good news? Dallas Willard shares his understanding. It’s much more than forgiveness of sin.