The “S” Word

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I saw an interview with a former Nazi that admitted to sending children into the gas chambers of Auschwitz. He said that it felt wrong to participate in taking innocent lives, but he had to remind himself that each of these children had Jewish blood running in their veins. It wasn’t their fault. It was their genetic inheritance. They would grow up and become just as much of a scourge to humanity as all the other Jews.

I think, in a way, Christians think of sin and sinners like that. Sin is something we’re born with, inherited from Adam (Rom. 5:12), something that lurks inside of us, urging us to do evil things even if we don’t want to do them (Rom. 7:20). An atheist might look at a child’s temper tantrum and think—survival instincts. A Christian might see the same tantrum and think—sin nature.

Do we all have this “thing” from birth that makes us want to do evil things? Is it a part of our DNA? In the blood? Could we find it with a microscope, or is it something spiritual? If so, where did it come from? Maybe Satan picked up the wrong harp in heaven, got infected, and started his insane war. Or maybe it was a virus inside the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Did God create sin? If so, why? If not, where did it come from?

If all people inherit a sin nature, why would God hand Moses a list on Mt. Sinai as if the people had a choice? That’s like looking at a person with yellow fever and saying, “Thou shalt not have headaches. Thou shalt not throw up. Thou shalt avoid all signs of jaundice.”

What does God expect from sinners? Righteousness?

If sin is a universal malady with only Christ as the antidote, what should we do with atheists that apparently loves their spouses, raise their children wisely, do good in their communities, care for the environment, and work hard to improve the general condition of the world? Don’t tell me these people don’t exist. Even Paul admits that unbelievers can outshine believers (Rom. 2:26).

I want to propose another way of looking at sin, one that resonates with Scripture but also makes sense of the world around us: Sin is not the addition of evil. Sin is the subtraction of God.

What did God say to Eve? “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.

“The day that you eat from it.” I’ve heard people suggest that God showed grace to Eve, choosing not to act on his warning. Yes, she died, but hundreds of years later. But what if God’s promise of death actually occurred? What if, from God’s perspective, true death is spiritual death, a separation between God and man?

There is a spiritual dimension to the human being that sets it apart from the rest of creation. God “breathed his life (spirit) into Adam.” I think that when Adam and Eve “died,” they lost that spiritual connection with God. They lost God’s Spirit. This separation is expressed as Adam and Eve being forced out of a place of life and beauty, a place where they walked with God without shame. It is expressed as a veil in the tabernacle and the temple, a separation between God and man, heaven and earth.

Paul compares the death that Adam brings to the life that Christ brings. Would Paul draw a direct comparison between physical death and spiritual life? When Christians talk about redemption, they speak in two general phases: first the regeneration of our spirits, then the resurrection of our bodies. We should think about sin and death in the same terms. First spirit, then body.

Eden is not the only place we can study the Fall. In Romans 1, Paul argues that the creation chose to worship and serve other creatures rather than its Creator (:25). Think of Eve. She was told to rule over the animals, and here she is listening to the advice of a snake. Think of the golden calves of Aaron and Jeroboam. Israel worshipped a bronze serpent (II Kings 18:4). So a limited, temporal, natural creation lets go of an unlimited, eternal, spiritual Creator. What do we expect? Eternal life? To let go of God is to take hold of depravity and death.

The parables of Jesus shine the clearest light on this issue. Jesus compared the Gentiles to a son that insisted on living independent of his father, taking his inheritance early and spending it on his own pleasures and impulses. Ultimately that son ended up living on pig slop, severed from the love, attention and care of his father. There is also the lost coin that rolls away. Or the sheep that wanders off. Or a treasure that is buried in a field. Or a house of valuable goods guarded by a strong man.

From Christ’s perspective, humans left God of their own volition. They became lost, cut off from the attention and care of their “master,” and entered the care of a hostile overlord. Jesus ultimately binds this strong man (the devil) and purchases the “field” (the world) by giving everything he has (his own life) and redeeming a treasure (humanity) that doesn’t even know it’s lost (in sin).

Like the prodigal son, there was a separation between father and son, but that separation did not remake the father or the son or the inherent relationship between them. Man was still made to share life with God, and God still wants to share life with men.

Without God we are like orphaned children. We make our own way. The blind lead the blind. We determine our own truths and identities. We defend our little spaces in the world, defying anyone who tries to intrude on our health and happiness. We run in packs. Survival of the fittest. We call it the “real world.”

What tragedy cannot be traced back to an act of ignorance or fear or greed, all symptoms of spiritual insecurity? How many lives have been lost to war? How many bodies have been victimized by things like poverty or rape or processed foods or medical malpractice? How many minds have been warped by abuse or pornography or bad politics?

We live in a world of spiritual autonomy, everyone running around unplugged and untethered. This was not God’s intention. Therefore it “misses the mark.” It is not cruel to say that we live in a sinful world. It is just the sad reality of our existence, assuming we believe in a Creator that actually made something with an endgame in mind. If not, why are you reading this blog?

So what do we do with Romans 7? Paul wrote about “the sin that dwells in me,” a power that would not allow him to fulfill God’s laws. If you keep reading into Romans 8, you’ll see that Paul is not talking about a power, but a weakness. He is unable to meet God’s standards because the power is not in him, but when the Spirit is in him, he can, in a sense, “hit the mark.” Think of it as darkness and light. One is an absence. One is a presence.

Imagine if humans actually lived according to design, with God abiding in them, leading them, teaching them, empowering them. Imagine how we would feel and think and live. Imagine how different our society would be.

With God fulfilling our needs at every level, no one would try to take advantage of anyone, or use anyone, or steal from anyone, or lie or cheat or covet. We wouldn’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from, or our next paycheck. We would have no need to hoard or hide. What could we possibly be afraid of?

We say “to err is human.” God would disagree. When he says “holy” or “righteous,” he is not imagining a street preacher with a giant Bible, he is imagining a heaven and earth that are joined as a husband to a bride (Rev. 21), a world of love and justice and peace, a world without sin.

10 thoughts on “The “S” Word

  1. Per 1 John 4, God is Love. Not the English language “love”, but the Greek “agape'” celebrated in 1 Corinthians 13. Go back through the posting reading Agape’ in place of God. Thinking of God as an icon, or the image of an icon; or the power to control social or physical events; these are the deceptions that distract us from the nature of God as Agape’ Love. Instead of being united with God, we want to be separate but equal to God. But there is only one infinite Agape’ Love. We must become part of it. We can’t have our own authorized version. Eve was tempted to become like God, and Lucifer sought to place his throne above the stars to be like the Most High. Be angry but do not sin. Love your brother. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love God.

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    • That is a key, profound statement, Rick. I think our society admires love (albeit, not in the fullness of “agape”), but we would prefer to make it just a part of God, like his softer side, his mother side. But his father side puts his foot down and sets out decrees and casts people in the Lake of Fire.

      No, as you say, God is Love. And this Love (God himself) becomes the antithesis of Sin. Perfect love casts out fear, and fear is the fuel of our sinful state, our state of spiritual independence and insecurity.

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  2. Did God create sin?

    Good question. The existence of sin only occurs within the existence of relationship, freedom, choice, etc. God could have chosen to live in eternity alone. He chose otherwise. Was Satan the first sinner? The angels were the first created beings… Satan, the highest of their order. So, God creates relationship and freedom is allowed for relationship (specifically relationship with Him) to be broken. Now sin exists. Satan passed that lie to humanity who does not know of sin/separation, the relationship is broken, and every created being falls into this inherited, broken relationship with their Creator.

    God is love. He created an outcome so that His creation may reenter a life of original glory, that which He intended from the beginning. Amazing that we can have that now!

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    • That’s great, Mike. I couldn’t agree more. Sure, the Bible describes our sinful state in ways that seem almost like infection or intrusion (like the Venom character from Spiderman), but if you talk to people with serious needs stemming from a lack of love or security in their childhoods, it also seems like their mind and body is sick with fears, needs and insecurities, not some hostile force from outside of themselves.

      To understand the root of the problem is to understand the road to recovery. To obsess over the symptoms (violence, prejudice, social injustice, etc.) is like putting Neosporin over cancer sores.

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  3. Good to see these thoughts in words. It’s easy for us to imagine sin as a cancer or sickness, after all Jesus said he came for the sick, but to take the analogy too far is to say that the Pharisees were sinless. And they weren’t, we know that! What’s so crazy, and I’m not sure where it crept in, is that we’ve forgotten that our sinful nature is as much a state of being as is all the other spiritual principles we live be. When Paul tells us how to live, it’s always these statements of how things are like: Love is this, grace is that, holiness is… Never is it an application, alway is it an action. Is that making sense? We’re cheating ourselves out of the seriousness of sin when we say it’s a sickness, when in fact WE are sin.

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    • Good point about the Pharisees. One could almost say that Jesus is calling them “well” in this context, but we know by the larger context that he saw them as more “sick” than the sinners who made an effort to seek him.

      And, yes, I think you’re right about thinking of sin as a state of being rather than something we do or don’t do. Piggybacking on this “is homosexuality a sin?” debate, I think a better statement would be: we are all born in sin, and anything that does not conform to the original blueprints on God’s spreadsheets for the human being should be considered “a sin.” We have lists in the Bible. And everything on the list falls under the general category of sin.

      Rather than focusing on which actions are sinful or righteous, we should obsess over the blueprints. What are we supposed to look like, and how can the Spirit of God conform us into THAT image? II Cor. 3:18

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    • Yes, sin is the action part, as in “be angry but do not sin”. And, sin lies at our doorstep and it desires us, but we may rule over it. Then sin becomes the bad choices made for reasons other than Love. The idea of sin being the absence of God, can be taken as sin being the absence of Love. Making bad choices (sin) then becomes leaving God (Love) out of the decision.

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  4. I believe you are spot on with this one, Mr. Barnts. As cold is the absence of heat and darkness the absence of light. Sin – or a state of sin is created by an absence of God in one’s life. I truly believe if we all kept God’s commandments (not the Levitcal Law by the way – the true commandments) there would be no problems in the world. The arguement of: “If God is good why is there suffuring?” is quite simple to understand from the perspective you have detailed above. Suffering exists not because God is not good, but because of sin, and sin exists because we do not follow God’s will.

    Furthermore, it is not God’s fault that we brake His commandments because while He could have preprogrammed our brains just to keep His will (much less headache for Him), in His love He gave us a choice (and honestly who would choose not to have a choice if given the opportunity to pick?), and so that ignorance would not be our demise (“My people die for a lack of Knowledge”), He gave us clear instruction on how to make a society where there is nothing but peace and love (Kingdom of Heaven) and explained the consequences that would happened if we did not do it the way He asked us to.

    So the responsibility is on us, not Him. Cause we do not do His will. Plus some might say, “Why does Adam and Eve’s sin affect me?” The answer is: It doesn’t. If we live a perfect life then God is just, in that we never strayed, so there is no condemnation. But! besides Christ, who honestly can say they have never broken the commandments of God?

    God did not create sin because sin is not an entity to itself, rather sinning (or iniquity) is the “act” of departing from the straight and narrow path. Which in the end leads to suffering and death. Something we can all agree is not good. So if we give into sin out of our lust it is really to our own detriment hence why God asks to obey. Because as a good Parent, He knows and wants what is best for us.

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