Friday, February 16, 2007

Does Sin Matter?

This is going to be a thinking aloud post, so if it rambles or doesn't make sense, blame my mind, not me.

How would you define sin? I've tried thinking about this over the last couple of days and the only thing that I can come up with is this idea of breaking God's Laws. Which seems like a reasonable definition. The problem comes when we try to define what God's Laws are. Because it seems like people have a lot of trouble with that.

For example, let's just take homosexuality. For the majority of Christians, this seems like a pretty cut and dried issue. There are numerous Old Testament scriptures that speak against homosexuality and fewer but no less clear one in the New Testament. However, there are growing voices that either want Christians to focus less on homosexuality or want Christians to acknowledge that homosexuality is not a sin and the Biblical prohibitions were either condemning promiscuous homosexuality just as they would promiscuous heterosexuality, or that those Scriptures represent a less enlightened culture or simply one that didn't understand the true nature of human sexuality.

And I know that homosexuality is a hot button issue, but the same could be said for greed or lust or envy.

I guess what I'm really trying to get at is that if sin can be redefined from generation to generation, does sin really matter? And if it can't (or shouldn't) be redefined, who does the singular defining? Is it once for all? Do laws that applied to first Century Mediterraneans apply to us?


TCS said...

why don't you pick a hard subject next time. :-)

The old definition is missing the mark. I like the musical analogy better. Where we are in tune with God's song or out of tune. We are either adding to creation or moving it toward chaos.

That doesn't address the culture/redefining of sin. I will shut up before I sound even less intelligent.

Elizabeth S said...

I think the reason we sometimes try to redefine sin is because we are usually involved in some sort of sin that we want justification for. "What I am doing really isn't a sin because..." We don't want to be uncomfortable with God telling us we are disobeying Him, so we try to change what He says. The bottom line is that no matter what WE say sin is, it doesn't change what God says sin is, and we can look at the Bible for that. God's word is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The meaning doesn't change.

Justin said...

That's a very legalistic interpretation elizabeth.

If we wanna go by the letter of the law, you can't speak in church, you have to have long hair, you can't wear jewelry.... We don't greet one another with a holy kiss, we don't pool all our possessions.

Just saying

Brent said...

I would define sin as that which society or culture has determined to be an unacceptable behavior. This, of course, gets redefined generationally and culturally, which explains the current discussion about homosexuality.

I no longer see God as the one who defines sin. Rather, IMO, people claim to speak for God or God's supposed inspired documents and judge others based on that.


Jeffrey said...

i posted last night about Love vs. Karma (which is Law). I'll let that post be my comment. ;-)

Tony Arnold said...

In my opinion, sin does matter. It matters a great deal. Not so much for salvation, or losing salvation, but it matters because of personal damage and hurt to others.

God gave us direction so that the world would be a better place and that we may be truly happy. I don't believe He gave us this direction just for the sake of following a bunch of rules. When we go against the purpose of His creation, we create pain both for ourselves and others.

Now the definition of sin is much harder as you have pointed out. I find it very difficult to define sin for others. But I think I am very good at defining it for myself. Anytime I feel a hesitancy or doubt about my intentions, then that is a pretty good warning sign. I have also found when I go against my doubt, then in the aftermath, I am quite sure I sinned and could have easily avoided it in the first place.

Concerning myself, the troubling question is not what is sin, but why do I keep doing things that I am sure are sin for me? A much scarier question.

This is a question not of definition but of motive. It is one thing to do something wrong while not knowing it was wrong, and completely different thing to do something you feel to be wrong and really would prefer not to do, but give in and do it for some selfish motive. It is the whole Romans discourse on the law and man.

Once I get myself completely free of such problems, I will begin a comprehensive dictionary on sin for others. But for now, I find that I am consummed with just trying to change myself.



Clarissa said...

On my daily calendar ... "Unjust people who don't care about God will not be joining his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don't qualify as citizens in God's kingdom" (I Corinthians 6:9-10, THE MESSAGE.)

This doesn't seem to indicate one-time sin, but an overall sinful attitude.

Phil said...

Good comments, and interesting too.

Elizabeth, I'd only make this comment about what you said. While on one hand what you say is true, on another it's not. God's Word DID change. When He showed Peter the sheet with food on it and told him to eat, God changed His Word. And I'll agree with what you said abotu God's word being the same, but maybe not in the way you think. Yes, God's word doesn't change, but the original version of that verse is that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God's word is Jesus. And he is the same.

Brent, my disagreement would have to be with the worshippers of Molech who societally agreed that "feeding" children to their god was socially acceptable to do, which cannot be anything but sin and an affront to all that is good.

David said...

It is interesting to me to see the different vocabulary used in these comments in reference to this or out of tune with God's song, God's word being the same at all times, adhering to culturally acceptable behavior, acting against the purpose of creation, persistent injustice, etc. While we may all use different vocabulary, I think each has said the same thing. There are actions/thoughts/behaviors that are harmonious and creative and those that are dissonant and destructive in a relationship or community.

Please read (and put into practice) the books "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie and "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey. Until you learn to communicate in a way that honors others, you will never convince anyone to your position, no matter how correct it may be. I am certain that you have no clue who Elizabeth is, for if you did, you would know that she is sincere in her attempt to honor God in what she says, no matter whether it is a vocabulary you see as valid or not. What she said is correct in every word.

Brent said...

"Brent, my disagreement would have to be with the worshippers of Molech who societally agreed that "feeding" children to their god was socially acceptable to do, which cannot be anything but sin and an affront to all that is good."

Exactly. There were once communities which thought it admirable for a couple to sacrifice their firstborn to the god(s). There is even scholarly speculation that the original story of Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac, as told by the Elohist source (E), was actually completed without an angelic intervention. The ancient view of sacrifice is something that people today have a hard time grasping, but there was a time when most of the world thought that it made perfect sense.

Today, there are societies which believe that a suicide bomber will recieve 72 virgins in paradise for his martydom - a sin in the eyes of most.

There was a time in our country's recent past when segregating people because of race was seen as the best thing to do. In the 80's most people thought that it was unwise for people of different races to get married and have children. I actually knew some who thought that this was a sin.

Is there anything that the Bible defines as sin (or an abomination) that we no longer view as such? What about currently? Is there anything that is deemed a sin in the eyes of Christians today that will be seen otherwise in our future? The answer to both is "yes."


Phil said...

So, Brent, are you saying that there can be NO objective ascertaining of right and wrong. That seems pretty pointless overall.

Brent said...

Yes, it is all subjective. It is the only way people can view things. Civilization and its morals/laws is a result of the ongoing discussion of the community. Unfortunately, people use positions of power to force their subjective will on others. It is the responsibility of those who see injustice to rise up and offset the power.

Please share why you feel this seems pointless?

Phil said...

If there is no objective right and wrong, or at least no way that subjective humans can ascertain objective right and wrong, what's the point of even trying? That's what seems pointless about that perspective.

Brent said...

Phil, I'm not sure that I'm following you. How are you defining objective right and wrong? Can you give examples?

Phil said...

I would probably define objective right and wrong as existing outside of human subjectivity. Basically, right and wrong defied by God.

Can I give examples? Sure, but if I gave murder, someone might counter that human sacrifice to the Aztecs was perfectly acceptable. If I gave child rape, someone might point out the Greeks for whom keeping child "lovers" might not have been common, but was not considered with same disgust that we might.

My biggest problem is with communally decided morality is that it makes no place for the objective right and wrong as I tried to define above.

Brent said...

Please don't ask me to start quoting chapter in verse where God (YHWH, Elohim, ....) defines moral laws which we now consider ludicrous.....

I say that to be funny, but not really. You say that you look to God as the divine decider of morality? The writings ascribed to him are not even consistent in that matter. Many of them are outright rejected or ignored by Christians today.

This is another reason why I have concluded that it was not God himself who gave us words to live by. Instead, it was mankind's SUBJECTIVE interpretation of God and his laws that created the Bible. What you would call objective, I would call subjective.


Phil said...

I'm just curious, Brent. Do you believe there is objective right and wrong that we humans are too limited to understand or is ALL right and wrong a construct of society?

Brent said...

The latter convinces me more than the former. However I am open to discussions which present evidence that objective good and evil exist. It is kind of difficult to make a case for something that humans are "too limited to understand"

Phil, why is it important to determine objective good and evil? Why can't people continue to develope in their understanding of one another and make all the necessary changes that will make the world better?

When people resist change in the name of religion, things can get pretty messed up. Take AIDS in Africa, for instance. The Catholic church's stance on condom use to aid the prevention of the disease is downright evil, in my opinion. That is my subjective stance on this issue. However, the Catholic rulers claim to speak objective truth in the name of almighty God.

I hope that last paragraph doesn't take this off on a tangent.


Phil said...

Why is it important? I guess that's the ultimate question. I have to believe in something outside of myself. And the belief that that person (God) is also the arbiter of Good and Evil. Do I agree that humans can misinterpret or even put their own spin on it? Possibly. That doesn't negate the God's existence or His purposes for this world.

Brent said...

"Why is it important? I guess that's the ultimate question."

I agree that it is important to determine where good originates. People have been looking to religion for the answer for thousands of years. The result has most often been intolerance and strife - in the name of each person's god - even though there are some examples that should receive merit. I however, believe that more good can be a result of collective subjective analysis of society's triumphs as well as failures. In other words, we talk about it instead of fight about it, all without judging one another or claiming to know "objective" good/evil.

"I have to believe in something outside of myself."

I would ask, "why?" - not to be critical or arrogant, but to ask you to explain what it is about life that causes you to carry this belief as a must-have. Do you feel others must have this same belief or can they have another and still be viewed as equals? I admit that I must ask this question of myself.

"That doesn't negate the God's existence or His purposes for this world."

I agree that religious corruption or misinterpretation does not negate the existance of God or a creator. But what evidence supports God and his purposes? And what are those purposes?

You can surely see that these questions bring up the fact that people CHOOSE to believe or disbelieve. God is not a fact. A theistic worldview is a choice. I cannot PROVE to you or anyone that he doesn't exist, though a critical study of the Bible can bring into question many accepted beliefs. Likewise, you cannot prove that he does exist. We can only share our viewpoints and learn from them.


Phil said...

Brent, I guess the only thing that I can say is response is that faith is its own evidence. It's a circular reasoning, true, but it's really the only thing I can say.

Tony Arnold said...

I think one of the most crtical points concerning theology is that you cannot prove that God exists.

That does not bother me or do I feel a need to prove He exists.

I truly believe this is part of God's plan, as frustrating as it can be for the finite mind of man to understand infinite things, regardless of whether the infinite concept is a theological one or a scientific one.

It is very easy to belief in something you can prove. That belief is not faith. Believing and trusting in something beyond yourself that you cannot prove is the definition of faith.

I believe that God desires our heart and our faith outside of proof. Further, if you have those, then you also have a faith that God has a fundamental truth concerning good and evil that He provides to us and holds us accountably to.

I believe God uses multiple methods and media to convey those fundamental truths to man. I believe man can, and has, misunderstood or misinterpreted the methods or media at times likely will continue to do so.

I also believe that some of the methods and media have not be utilized yet. That is, that God's methods span time and space so that different parts of the truth are revealed at different times in different ways.

I say this in generic way, a very high level view. I am not trying to debate specific methods and media at specific times. I do believe Scripture is one of the primary methods. I believe the life and teachings of Jesus was also a key method.


Brent said...

You bring up some good points about belief, Tony. I don't subscribe to that way of thinking anymore, but I understand it.

There is a big difference between faith and fact, as we have all pointed out in different ways.

Here is an observation: Religious intolerance, bigotry, homophobia, judgmentalness, denominationalism, etc. seem to have a common denominator - a misunderstanding of the difference between faith and fact. More specifically, these attitudes often occur when people present their BELIEFS as though they are divine FACT.

When faith is very deep and personal to someone they may find it difficult to have a discussion with a person of another faith or perspective. This is due, in part, to this observation that a person's own beliefs are understood by them to be facts. This phenomenon may be a result of the Enlightenment and the advancement of scientific discovery.

The big question for me is this: Will the postmodern era move us in a direction where these religious walls will no longer be burned on the hearts and minds of future generations? I say, "hopefully." The result of this may be a world that looks back on the 16th-20th centuries (or even broader) as dreadful times in our history. This could never occur (at least it hasn't yet) through religious means because religion has always separated people rather than unite them.

Thanks for listening.


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