What about sin?

current reading 2It is hard for non-believers to understand just why Christians are always so concerned with the idea of sin. Simeon Zahl, in an essay reprinted in Mockingbird (“Hiding in Plain Sight: The Lost Doctrine of Sin”) explains why, and why this is significant.

small quotes blueWhen I try to explain [to my students] that Christians have traditionally believed that human beings are deeply flawed from birth, and furthermore that God is profoundly unhappy about these flaws, I watch my students’ eyes grow skeptical. I watch their postures shift the way students always do when they disagree with what you are telling them. . . .

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My point is this: in the edifice of Christian belief, the doctrine of sin is a major load-bearing structure. It is not theologically optional. To lose it, or to downplay it, or to reframe it in terms that are less offensive to our sense of self-worth, is in the long run to render Christianity unintelligible to people.

This reminds me of C.S. Lewis, who made much the same point in his essay “God in the Dock”:

small quotes blueThe greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin . . . . We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.

God in the Dock, 243–4 (1970).

Zahl goes on to offer some ways of thinking about sin which may communicate the truth about sin to modern people (like each of us) who have been trained to think in very different terms. He ends by saying:

small quotes blueIt is only in our sickness that we recognize the Physician. It is our sin that makes Christ intelligible to us.

Worth the time.

Judgment

Judgment&JusticeOur teaching elder has been teaching through the book of Revelation, and it doesn’t look easy. One thing which has been pretty obvious (at least after chapter 5 or so) is that there is a lot of judgment to be meted out in the future.

Of course there is a lot of judgment being meted out now, too.

Everyone, not just Christians, wants justice to be done. More than half of the outrage on the internet is just that kind of thing—people want judgment on Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roseanne Barr, Donald Trump, Peter Strzok, the molesting priests, Serena Williams, etc., for the things they did (or we think they did).*

Of course we disagree about the particulars, either because we identify with the person being judged, or we simply don’t know enough of the facts, or because we are willing to give some people the benefit of the doubt.

Andrew Peterson wrote a song which begins “Do you feel the world is broken?” and it is hard to believe that there are many people — believers or not — who would not say “yes.”

Everyone feels the need for justice, and thus first for judgment. Religious people are notorious for it, but non-religious people seem to feel the same way. (It’s a big reason for non-belief—how could a good God permit natural disasters and human evil to occur?)

Some people recognize that honestly, they too, deserve to be judged.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The Gulag Archipelago (1973).

The most obvious theme of the book of Revelation is that, in the end, God wins. But a second theme is that there must be judgment on evil; indeed there must be judgment on all evil.

But that judgment is beyond me, because I simply don’t know enough. I cannot tell whether a person meant what they said, or whether what they did was outside their control, or whether they were warped by the actions of their parents, or whether . . . I just don’t know. And I wouldn’t really make a good judge, because, by all that is fair, that judgment should fall on me, not just Hitler and Harvey Weinstein, because I think and do evil, too.

And in the face of that, the most hopeful message of Revelation is that the God, who has judged and will judge with perfect knowledge, and perfect righteousness, nevertheless offers grace so that none need be separated from his love.

That’s not the whole story, but it is a pretty important part.

*I think only a tiny minority thinks everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want. If you feel like that is a sustainable position, then I guess I am not really writing to you.

 

Not just forgiveness

Rachael Denhollander was interviewed by Christianity Today in the aftermath of her statement to the Court in the Nassar sentencing. (If you have not yet read “No True Grace Without Real Judgment” and her statement, please do that now.)

She talks bluntly about the tendency — which she feels is universal — for church leadership to protect the “the perceived reputation of the gospel of Christ” rather than the victims of sexual abuse, when the abuse occurs in the church. It is an uncomfortable indictment.

Here is her conclusion:

“[T]he gospel of Jesus Christ does not need your protection. It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church. Jesus Christ does not need your protection; he needs your obedience. Obedience means that you pursue justice and you stand up for the oppressed and you stand up for the victimized, and you tell the truth about the evil of sexual assault and the evil of covering it up.

[And] that obedience costs. It means that you will have to speak out against your own community. It will cost to stand up for the oppressed, and it should. If we’re not speaking out when it costs, then it doesn’t matter to us enough.

As usual, I urge you to read the whole interview. Morgan Lee, “Interview with Rachael Denhollander,”* Christianity Today (Jan. 31, 2018) [link].

Ms. Denhollander has thought deeply, theologically, and prayerfully about these things.

*The actual title is “My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness.”

Worth reading

Three stimulating articles, without any obvious common theme except the most common of all — a fallen world with fallen people in it:

current reading 2
“Ultimately, God is still good. And he is still enough.”  Bekah Mason, “Finding My ‘True Self’ As a Same-Sex Attracted Woman,” Christianity Today (June 2017) [link].

“I am capable of any sin. And God loves me in spite of my sinful nature.”  Sanya Richards-Ross, “My Abortion Broke Me, God Redeemed Me,” Christianity Today (June 2017) [link].

“What explains a person or a group of people doing things that seem at odds with who they are or what they think is right?”  Malcolm Gladwell, “Thresholds of Violence,” gladwell.com (October 19, 2015) [link].

But still, there is always the offer of God’s grace.

Creative interventions

united#united3411

Four thoughts on the United Flight 3411 incident:

      1. What a mess!
      2. Almost everyone involved can (probably) see a point at which they should have chosen differently, and (almost certainly) wishes they had.
      3. On the whole, if you were one of Dr. Dao’s fellow passengers, filming the event on your cellphone was a better choice than trying to physically intervene.
      4. It appears that an even better choice for almost anyone on the plane would have been to stand up and say “This man appears to really need to get home, I will give up my seat.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers . . . .”