Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Christian Believer: Week Nine {Sin}

Late again.  I've already read through most of tonight's lesson and it's my favorite so far! Even without the conversation or the video notes, I know it's going to be a novel of a post, so I decided I better get this one on out!

Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
 [Just As I Am, Without One Plea, Charlotte Elliot]

This week's topic was "Human Condition: Sin" (The Trouble We're In).  We had some really interesting discussion, as usual, and I liked that this week we were able to really discuss some of the practical implications of the doctrine we were studying.

We began, per usual, with the video.  I thought it was really interesting and actually rewatched it on my own.  The video started by saying that unfortunately, sin has become too personal.  Although it does have to do with us and God, like the image of God within us, all sin has a communal effect.  It then defined sin by saying that sin is an ancient way of defining that which is morally wrong in human life.  It went on to say that Biblically, sin means to miss the mark God has set for us. It listed several other ways of defining sin:
- rebellion against God
- misuse of freedom
- misdirected love
- failure to give honor to God
- bondage of the will
- self-centeredness

The video discussed how all sin has social consequences and how all societies value some, but not others (for example, the disabled, women, or people with certain jobs may not be valued as highly as others).  There is passive sin, such as failing to be neighborly to those society doesn't value, which would be a sin of omission. There is also active sin, such as acting against the good of those society doesn't value, which would be a sin of commission.

The question arises "Why do we sin?" The video listed several possibilities, all of which, I think seem to have some merit:
1. We so driven by immediate gratification that we can't refrain from short term goods with long term destructive consequences?
2. Sometimes we have actual desire for the harm of others
3. We are molded by the sin in the societies we are born into-- we inherit structures of sin.
4. With Adam's sin all human nature became corrupted and all born of Adam's linage are incapable of not sinning.

It gave some background to the last point.  Apparently, under the influence of Augustine, the Christian tradition relied heavily on the historicity of Adam.  However, in the 18th century, during the Enlightenment, questions were raised about this literal interpretation.  Because of this, "the doctrine of sin became increasingly trivialized, psychologized, and reduced to sexual indiscretions. The magnitude of the problem of sin and the social dimension of sin were reduced to personal lists of things one should or should not do." But, a return to the Biblical witness, particularly the preaching ministry of Jesus, can lead to a recovery of the doctrine of sin. "The act of naming sin as sin is a redemptive act and it calls upon a different standard for us, recognizes human responsibility, and calls upon the grace and resurrection power of God.  By the grace of God we can use the criterion of the reign of God to judge our societies and our participation in them". 

We then discussed the readings.  I really got a lot out of the workbook reading.  The first thing that stood out is that it said that sin never STARTS as an outright rebellion.  Sin can look like a very acceptable first reaction. Also, sin begins with legitimate desires, but it becomes sin when we allow those desires to go to illegitimate extremes. Not only is sin attractive, but the temptations sin offers are "so tangible and so now".  The opposite- the plan of God- is so intangible.  That's the point, though.  If we choose the right thing, it's an act of faith in God.  "To be righteous is to believe God and to believe  in what God represents.  To sin is to believe in whatever- immediate or longer-term- gratification sin promises." To me this was such an interesting way of looking at it!

The book then dove into the the first sin and it's consequences.  These consequences included loss of innocence and an alienation from God.  The books says, though, that "even in running, humans discover that the heart calls for home even as the psyche runs from it."  Sin also estranges us from one another and even without the prospect of Hell, sin is terribly tragic  because of what it does to our human relationships.  This reaction is partly self defense; "if I have sinned I want the consolation of thinking others are like me."  Also, "I am suspicious of my neighbor not necessarily because I have seen him sin, but because I have sinned and so I know what my neighbor is capable of."

The book then talked about how the Catholic church defines venial and mortal sins.  A mortal sin cause a complete divide from God and bring eternal death, while venial sins are less severe and only draw one somewhat away from God.  It then discussed social sin- sin against society and systemic sin- evil ingrained in our cultures, such as racism, sexism and poverty.  This can also be called structural sin. 

The reading ended perfectly- "Sin has brought death, and if sin is to be countered, it will be with a death, which implies the shedding of blood.  Eventually this logic leads us to the cross and the Communion table."

In our group, as I said, we had some fascinating discussion.  We first talked about different names for sin.  Someone said that carelessness, complacency, and inconsistency are all forms of sin.  I talked about how lately I've come to see the word "inconsiderate" differently.  I used to think that it meant thinking of someone else, but then not doing what you should.  Recently, I've decided that it also means simply failing to consider that person, which is, in my opinion, just as bad. 

We discussed sin in culture and talked about ways to better our society, especially as consumers. This issue is near and dear to Peyton's heart.  He talked about we try to buy fair trade products; meaning they were produced in ethical conditions.  This is one reason we avoid Walmart (although, I know Target can be just as bad) and try to check labels to see what country things are made in because that's a good indication.  We don't do a great job of this, but we do try to buy some things (like chocolate) that are actually labeled as fair trade.  He also talked about blood diamonds and the ethical issues that involves.  When we got engaged, Peyton bought only a setting because he had a diamond he wanted to use in my ring in his family.  If he hadn't I'm not sure what we would have done.  At the time, the thought of having a laboratory manufactured diamond was simply not an option to me.  Looking back, I think if he hadn't had the diamond from his grandfather, I would have just chosen a different stone.  Not a traditional choice, but one I'd probably make even though, these days they do have a lot more regulations on the diamond industry. We also talked about supporting Christian businesses like Chik Fil A and Hobby Lobby.

After that, I talked about "pretty sin" vs. "ugly sin".  I think sometimes, we just don't think some forms of sin are that bad.  I shared about my huge struggle with materialism and how I know it's just as awful as some kind of heinous debauchery, even though it's culturally not looked at at all the same way.

We also talked about the word "depravity" and what that means.  Some people just were not comfortable wit the term.  I think for a lot of people it's synonymous with debauchery or sexual deviancy, but in my option, it simply means we were dead in our sins before we came to Christ.  Of course, this lead to yet another discussion on the differences between the Reformed traditions and our Wesleyan beliefs.  Peyton discussed how he finds it hard to accept that we are TOTALLY depraved (one of the five points of Calvinism) if we were made in God's image and that he doesn't like how some churches focus too much on man's depraved nature and are actually kind of self-deprecating.  Of course, the opposite, which is the failure to name sin as sin, is just as bad (or worse!) and something I think United Methodists in general are not always very good at. I brought up this article, by Timothy Tennent, the president of Asbury Theoligical Seminary, in which he states that Wesleyans do believe in Total Depravity just as ardently as Calvinists, but disagree on whether "on whether God’s prior action is limited to the elect (Limited Atonement – the L in the TULIP) or is universal."  It's a great article and worth reading the whole thing!

We ended by talking about our response to sin in others.  Some one brought up people who are caught in cycles of violence and feel they have no way out? I personally feel like we should still hold them accountable for their sin, but have compassion.  There is such a fine line between "naming sin as sin" and showing empathy for the person ensnared by it.  It reminded me of how I felt this time when I was trying to articulate my feelings on the issue of sin.

I can't leave out some of my favorite passages from our textbook reading and from Scripture:

"The Bible defines sin both in religious and moral terms.  The religious dimension of sin is man's rebellion against God, his effort usurp the place of God.  The moral and social dimension of sin is injustice.  The ego which falsely makes itself the center of  existence in its pride and will-to-power inevitably subordinates other life to its will and thus does injustice to the other life" -Reinhold Niebuhr

"Sin to the understanding Christian means rebellion against God and disobedience to His holy will. Sin ought never to be defined moralistically, simply as a deviation from accepted human standards....Yet it must persistently be made clear that the rejection of moralism means no repudiation of Christian morality." -Georgia Harkness

"Sin is the turning towards ourselves, and making ourselves the center of our world and ourselves. Sin is the drive in everyone, even those who exercise the most self-restraint, to draw as much as possible of the world into oneself." -Paul Tillich

"Thus we misunderstand the depth of sin if we see it only as a violation of a moral code; it is, instead, primarily the disruption of our relationship with God." -Daniel Migliore

"The soul who sins is the one who will die...But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right he will surely live; he will not die." -Ezekiel 18:20, 21

"Create in me a pure heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your prescence or take yout Holy SPirit form me.  Restore to me the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me." -Psalm 51:10-12

"The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." -Psalm 51:17

No comments: