Thursday, November 05, 2009

Why Sin?

Yesterday, in my theology 101 sessions, we talked about sin -- and salvation, but mostly about sin. Disciples don't dwell on sin, for the most part. I asked my earlier group about their experience -- had they heard much about sin over the years? The answer was no. One reason for this is that Disciples, generally don't affirm the doctrine of original sin. We also reflect, even in unconsciously, an optimism that emerges out of the early 19th century American frontier experience. The world lay before them! They also reflected the Enlightenment thinking of Locke and Reid. So, if you go to a Disciples church you will rarely see or hear a prayer of confession and absolution -- except may be at an Ash Wednesday service, and those are relatively new.

With this in mind, we talked about sin -- and last night we kind of got stuck on the issue of original sin. Now, while I personally do not believe in original sin, I do recognize, with Paul, its universality (Romans 3:23). But, I'm struck by Augustine's own story, his own struggles with sin, as described in the Confessions. While Augustine struggled with sex, it wasn't his only vice. Consider this story about stealing fruit during his adolescence. According to him, he acted out of a "contempt for well-doing and a strong impulse to iniquity."

There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was not tempting either for its color or for its flavor. Late one night--having prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was-- a group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree. We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart--which thou didst pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now lit my heart confess to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error--not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but the shame itself.

To give some further context -- when I first shared this story with my Doctrine Class at Manhattan Christian College (12 years ago), I had learned of a somewhat similar story. The year before, a group of young men from the college, all studying to be pastors, some of whom were in the class, had gone out the day after Halloween, taken a load of pumpkins from a farmers field and found a place to toss them and break them -- just for the fun of it.

So, my question -- is Augustine on to something? And if so, why do we do such things? Is it nature or nurture?


Steve said...

Bob, as you know, there is a huge difference between the universality of sin and Original Sin. OS is tied to our genes and carries with it all the baggage of a literal Adam and Eve and universal condemnation. The universality of sin is quite another thing. Why do people act against the well-being of themselves and others (my definition of sin)? For years, I lived with Niebuhr's insight of anxiety at the realization that we are not God. We then go about attempting to arrange our life in such a way that all others become our enemies, at least to the degree that their godlike attempts put them in competition with ours. I still think that this is a fruitful way of looking at the nature of sin. But it is incomplete.

I recently read Marjorie Suchocki's, The Fall to Violence, and was forced to reexamine the issue. The sticking point with Niebuhr is that sin is defined as against God, where Suchocki redefines sin as against creation. What’s at stake? Well, I can’t reduce the point to a few words and highly recommend the book. Suffice it to say for now that by redefining sin as against creation, which includes God, of course, we are forced to acknowledge our culpability in all aspects of our actions against the well-being of all things, humans included. All traditional attempts to explain universal sin failed to explain corporate sin and provide a means to redress it. “Getting right with God” just didn’t go far enough. By using Process/panentheistic thought as her basic premise, she both shows the interconnectedness (universality) of sin and how it becomes corporate. Even more to the point, she shows how forgiveness functions, as the commitment to creation’s well-being, to redress the universal effect of sin.

Country Parson said...

Oddly enough, retired Senator Alan Simpson was quoted in The Week magazine making something of a similar confession. I am going to come down on the side of nature and assert that there is original sin. It is not the sin of Adam and Eve. It is the sin of Adam and Eve that is in each of us, in its own original way. Whatever particular form it takes on, it is always an expression of the desire to be our own gods through acts of selfishness that ignore even the possibility of negative consequences for ourselves or others.

matthewgallion said...

I tend to think of sin as the tendency for human beings to be co-opted from the imago Dei to selfish abuses of creation. I'm with you; I don't buy into an understanding of original sin that is biological and damning for all people. I prefer to recognize the universal tendency to listen to voices other than the Divine that assert our own status as better or more central for existence than God/the Deity. So, to answer the nature/nurture question, I would say that human "nature" is noted by a tendency to succumb to the "nurturing" guidance of voices other than God, a process that leads to destruction, tyranny, and exclusion.

Anonymous said...

The sin you're talking about, with the pumpkins, has more to do with an adrenaline rush. Good works and closeness has to do with oxytocin (yes, men use it too!) with a hit of endorphins and cannabinoids mixed in. Yep, we are all natural drug addicts. Act a certain way, get a certain buzz.

So yeah, it’s in our genes.

David Mc

MDMA (ecstasy) may increase feelings of love, empathy and connection to others by stimulating oxytocin activity via activation of serotonin 5-HT1A receptors, if initial studies in animals apply to humans.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Assuming, as I do, that we shouldn't take Genesis 2-4 literally, what do we make of the Genesis 3 story? Should we take this as a negative, as a sign of rejection of God's guidance, or should we take it as some do as the story of human maturing to the point of not needing God there to hold our hand?

Of course, Steve has an interesting point, that might warrant some conversation!

Anonymous said...

Tempted before she had wisdom of right and wrong. How would Eve suspect a lie without that knowledge? And if Eve then was wise, why would she have had Adam eat it? And why is he punished?

And why is it always "Adam's fall"?

How much of a head start did women have anyway?? Did she have a long talk with God before Adam was brought up speed?

Don't get me wrong, I love and respect the XX ones. They could be me, but not I fully them.

Anyway, to recognize all our sins against nature, to me, would be very dear. This type is more and more obvious as the years go by. Besides, what else can we truly experience, being natural ourselves? The uplifting thing is we learn more "secrets" every day.
Whe're still squeezing that fruit.

God's natural appearance seems like a huge nod in this direction.

David Mc

Anonymous said...

Why do I do the things that I ought do and do not do the things I should (my paraphrase) It was Paul wrestling with his sin nature. All we have to do is pick up the paper and read about the sin within us. Not sure where I fall on the whole original sin, but I do feel we are all born with a sin nature and are not and will not be perfect. It is why legalism is so dangerous, but we also shouldn't be naive and say people are generally good. History seems to prove otherwise.


John100 said...


In Isa. 14:12-14 it says that Satan desired to make himself like the most high. He passed on this desire to man in the garden. Science has discovered that human beings have mirror neurons which allow us to copy or mimic others. It is one of the primary ways we learn and gives us our ability to experience empathy. Desire is passed from one person to another through these mirror neurons. In fact I would say that all desire starting in the garden is passed from one human to the next , one generation to the next by this process to this very day.

Desire begins with discontent. I think human discontent happens when we believe something from the material world indicates that there is a problem with our love relationship with ourselves , with others or with God . We then look to the material world for a solution for this problem with our love relationship, this solution is what we desire. Once one believes that the material world will deliver us from our discontent we have entered into idolatry in to sin. You see it all starts with the false belief that the material world has something to say about our love relationships. We have the serpent to thank for this lie. Love is not based on the material world it is without conditions. The garden story and the temptation of Jesus in the dessert are great examples of this process.

Thanks for the opportunity to share

Trevor Page said...

No, no...the original sin was not an ACT -- per sé -- but rather the CHOICE OF rejecting God's clear direction ("Don't eat of THAT tree..."). The entire idea of AUTONOMY, or MAN deciding that MAN knows what's best for him is the essence of the original sin. In other words, God's given us a few simple instructions (10 initially, then Jesus Christ & Paul embellished) on things to not do in order to live fruitfully in this fallen world. Disobeying them is, in essence, buying into the original lie, "you can be as GODS..."

Therefore, to stand firmly upon the presuppositions of the word of the living God, Jesus Christ, we must basically abandon all notions of autonomy and instead, as Proverbs 3:6 says, "Acknowledge Him in all our ways, [that] He will DIRECT our paths."