Mark Biddle’s book Missing the Mark, with a striking piece of art work on its cover, is the newest and one of the finer books on how the Bible describes sin. Should you ask, my favorite book on sin (if one has a favorite book on such topics) is C. Plantinga 2’s book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, but Biddle’s is more of an OT study of the term. What is the essence of sin?
Before answering, let me say this: spend as much time as you can discerning the meaning of sin for it will do nothing but lighten the load when it comes to figuring out gospel and atonement. What I most like about CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters is the brilliant insight into human nature, and essayists like Joseph Epstein, and the long line of essayists he now leads, are at the top of their game when probing human nature.
Two standard answers: one classical answers is that the essence of sin is pride or hubris, the proudful, haughty desire of humans to be like God. Biddle doesn’t really disagree here, but he does observe that the serpent’s temptation to Eve to be “like God” was not really unlike what Eve already was: she was made in God’s very likeness.
So, another answer, which he calls the Western answer that springs from Augustine full-blown, but which has deep, deep biblical roots, is that sin is failure to do the will of God. It is forensice, judicial, and legal. Biddle thinks this, too, is not quite how the Bible describes sin.
So, Biddle proposes in the company of many that the essential sin of Adam and Eve was to mistrust God, and I think he’d nod his head of approval to anyone who said that the three are related, that the others flow from mistrust, and all that. But, he’s got a point: the serpent’s temptation (and Biddle sees the story as primal myth, what I have sometimes called “hyper-reality”) was to get Eve and Adam to disbelieve what God had said and to act on that failure to trust. Now I happen to think he’s got this right, though the other categories (pride, failure to do God’s will) are also adequate.
The advantage of seeing sin as mistrust is that it personalizes and relationalizes sin. This is good.
Biddle’s chapter on Genesis 3 then explores five (yea, six) themes of sin in Genesis 3 and I think these are very good.
1. Human imagination and the burden of imperfection: Adam and Eve imagined what it might be like to be like God more than they should have.
2. Human ignorance and the burden of responsibility: they didn’t want to live how they should have; they exhibited sloth.
3. Basic (Mis)Trust: the fear that God would not do what God said he’d do.
4. Human intentions and actual outcomes: sin, Biddle says — and he’s big on this and very good I might add, is sin whether accidental or intentional.
5. Human sins and sensibilities: sin brings guilt and self and other relationships.
6. Humans sin and the cosmos suffers: Biddle is keen on showing that sin creates systemic evil.
Well, this is a good book. I hope many of you read it.