If you’ve discussed this elsewhere, then please accept my apologies. In light of recent heated discussions on issues such as (but not limited to) homosexuality in the church, much has been said about respecting the authority of Scripture.
However, I have not recently heard much discussion on the nature of what sin is. For example, in an admittedly cursory search of Biblical commands, I see two basic types: 1) commands to act in certain ways because of the effects those actions have on either ourselves or on other people, 2) commands to act in certain ways out of respect for God.
Here’s the question: Why does God command us to behave in certain ways? Why are certain behaviors considered “sin?” Is it just so that we will learn to live peaceably with each other? (And, if so, homosexual behaviors between committed consenting adults, to use the previous example, might well be reinterpreted as “not sinful” because no one is harmed by these actions) Or is there something more: something that God wants us to realize about God’s self out of obedience to what we have been commanded? If the latter, what are we intended to learn? Is it enough to say, as some Christians do, that we should “simply obey” because God is worthy to be obeyed? Or is it important that we attempt to understand the mind of God (within our limited human ability to do so, of course) that we understand what God intends by forbidding certain behaviors?
No doubt you will want to redefine the question if/when you post it online. Certainly, if I have been unclear, you should feel free to e-mail me for clarification.
Thanks for writing. You are right that not enough today want to talk about sin. I suspect for some it is a dirty topic because it evokes a conservative past, but for whatever reason, I don’t think it is discussed much. There are some very good books on sin of late: Ted Peters, Mark Biddle, and Cornelius Plantinga each has written a good book.
Discussion of homosexuality means one has to talk about sin, and I think you are onto something: what engines are driving our concepts of sin? Is sin that which has negative effects on others or on our self? So, one naturally asks, if the effects are not negative, and effects are the point, then why is consensual homosexuality wrong if the effects are not bad?
Here is where I think we need to begin: Most folks seem to think of sin in superficial, legal, judicial ways. That is why they turn the debate about sin into a debate about the authority of Scripture. Namely, sin is whatever breaks some law or whatever Scripture says. Now surely there is truth to this, but sin is much more than breaking a law for there has to be something about the law that makes the law right. So, what we often want to know is what makes the law right. So, when folks say it is just about obedience, then they have turned sin into the simply judicial.
My own view on this is that we dare not let ourselves begin defining sin by reducing it to breaking the law. We have to begin with God, and define what is ultimately right by looking at God. I’m Trinitarian, and what is Ultimately Right is what drives the Life of the Trinity. That seems to be the Mutual Interpenetrating, Sacred, Loving Presence of the Father, Son and Spirit. This interpenetrating life of the Trinity, called the perichoresis, defines what is Right. What is Right is that engaged and engaging Relationship — and everything in our world that is “right” is a reflection of that perichoretic relationship.
Now this leads me to this: Sin is whatever impedes the flow of human life and our world into that everflowing perichoretic loving dance within God. Whatever resists it; whatever works against it; whatever breaks down human union with God; whatever distorts the world’s design to participate in that dance is sin. This also means that whatever impedes proper love between humans and humans or between humans and this world is also sin. The law comes in merely to clarify where love is breaking down. Defining sin by ignoring love misses what sin really is.
Since I have blogged about homosexuality a long while back, I don’t want to engage that debate again. But what I will say is this: Sin can’t be defined by effects either on us or on others. Sin must be defined and directed toward that loving interrelationship within God and how we are designed to reflect that love.
Sin is relational; before the judicial element there is the relational.