|I grew up with the "sin separates us from God" idea.|
Sin is Bad (mmmmkay)
We all know that sin is something we shouldn't do. It's all of the bad things in the world. It's breaking the ten commandments and thinking naughty thoughts.
I grew up knowing that certain things were bad (cussing, lying, hitting, etc.), and I learned that other things were bad as I got older (sex... mostly sex). But what I was never taught was why things were considered sins. I was told that the bible said so and that's all I needed.
Based on what I learned growing up, I developed a logical construct that went something like this:
- God created the universe,
- Therefore, God is the source of everything
- Humans inherently know good from bad
- Therefore, the ideas of good and bad are defined by God
- The bible reveals God to humanity
- Therefore, the bible defines what is good and bad.
I know I'm not the first person to come up with that particular thought process, but when I was a teenager I didn't know of anyone else who'd thought through things that way.
For a long time that was enough for me. But I have this congenital defect: I have to know why. I can't be satisfied with just knowing that something exists or works, I must know why it works. That's led me to understanding (at least at a theoretical level) how everything in the computer on my desk functions. It's a sickness; I admit.
Why is Sin Bad?
For me the whole "sin is bad" construct started breaking down when I learned that there were things in the bible that used to be sins, but aren't anymore.
Jesus nullified the sacrificial system (Heb. 10:8-18), so it's no longer a sin to fail to observe the Passover or to bring a dove to the temple or any of the sacrifices required under Jewish law.
The Spirit nullified the food laws (Acts 10), Jesus nullified the Sabbath laws (Mark 2:23-28), and Paul sums it all up by saying that anything done apart from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).
I was left to conclude that the rules nullified weren't absolutely necessary -- otherwise they couldn't have been nullified. That means that the code of the bible doesn't necessarily point to absolute good, but to what is the good thing to do in the place and time where you exist.
Ugh! That sounds like relativism, which undermines the whole Christianity thing.
So, I had to go back to the drawing board to reconstruct my view of good and evil.
Why did God Make People?
For me, the purpose of life is inextricably tied to the meaning of sin. I'm going to take you through a really fast version of my current reasoning.
- Causes exist (yes, I know this is basic, but that's how I think).
- Therefore, an ultimate cause must exit (thanks for that Aristotle).
- The Ultimate Cause made the universe which led to humanity.
- Humanity has always sought a relationship with the Ultimate Cause through religions.
- Therefore, the Ultimate Cause created humanity to seek a relationship with it (it's a jump, I know, but it's a jump I'm comfortable with).
- If God (i.e. the UC) wants relationship with humanity it cannot be for the service humanity provides (because of the whole universe creation thing).
- If God wanted worshipers, he could have created automatons instead of people with free will.
- Therefore, God wants a freely accepted relationship based on trust.
- So, the religions that emphasize that type of relationship are more likely to be correct.
- So, when Jesus roots the entirety of the bible in loving God and loving people, he expresses the core reason for the existence of humanity.
Sin in Context
If you're still with me (thank you), then here's where we get to put everything together. I think that sin is a violation of the core principles of the bible. That is, sin is unloving. Sin is when we don't love God and/or we don't love our neighbors as ourselves (which requires loving ourselves).
So, sin for the ancient Jews included eating pork, breaking the Sabbath, and mixing types of cloth not because God was arbitrary, but because he was giving them instructions on how to love and be loved in their specific context.
I'll back up to Eden and make my case from there. God commanded Adam and Eve to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (which totally needs a shorter name like T-KEG). I've always been taught that God did that for no reason whatsoever. He just decided to place a tree there that they couldn't eat from and then punished them for doing so. That does not seem loving to me. But, if God put the tree there for Adam and Eve to eat from eventually, after they'd learned enough about love and relationship from hanging out with God, then it starts to make a little bit more sense.
In eating from the tree, Adam and Eve were declaring that they didn't trust God to prepare them for the T-KEG in the future. They wanted it immediately. And then knowing all of that covered them with shame which is the emotional equivalent of love repellent. If I'm ashamed of myself, I don't think I'm lovable. So, if you try to love me I either think you're stupid or I'm a fraud (which then causes further shame).
We will get into the specific historical and cultural context of Leviticus and the ancient Israelites in later posts, but for the purposes of this post we'll just look briefly at some of the their situation. Leviticus is the source of what's known as the Holiness Code (for the commands to be holy, Lev. 20:26).
Holiness is the idea of being set apart for a purpose. God is holy because he is other, he is separate from creation even though he is among it. In the same way, God wants his people to be holy amidst the unholy -- for the purpose of redeeming all creation.
I'll say that again. Holiness is redemptive. The Holiness Code of Leviticus existed so that the Israelites could be a redemptive presence among their neighbors (not that they did a good job at it, but that was the purpose). It existed so they could love God, love their neighbors, and show that love as an example.
As we dig further into the scriptures about homosexuality, specifically in Leviticus, this idea of holiness and love will be incredibly important (spoiler alert). Locating the love-based reason for the commands of Leviticus helps to understand why then some of the commands are no longer valid (i.e. Kosher laws), and why some of them are considered the greatest commands (i.e. love your neighbor as yourself).
Love versus Sin
The consequence of sin is, at the very least, being unloving. It breaks relationship with God and with others. But sin has other consequences. If I'm unloving toward myself and become addicted to a harmful substance, my body will start to fall apart. If I'm unloving to my spouse I can damage the relationship to the point where she might leave me. If I'm unloving to my neighbors and hurt them, there's a good chance that they'll respond in kind. Some of the commands in the bible are consequence management rules to help mitigate the effects of the unloving actions.
What consequences of being unloving have you seen?
Do you think being unloving is the best definition of sin? Why or why not?
If you could write the rule for the universe, what would you do differently?