Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Problem with "Sin"

So, I was thinking this morning in the shower about that word..."sin"...and how it was actually just a metaphor for our condition (and by "our" don't just read "me and my own personal, isolated condition") as part of corrupt or fallen or broken creation.

You see, the notion of sin in the New Testament-speak was to miss the mark. This is not all that different from the Buddhist understanding of Dukkha... suffering, brokenness... basically, the opposite of "shalom" which means wholeness and complete-ness.

So many people get so caught up in "sin" being a part of the "gospel" and forget the metaphor it plays. Most people recognize that there is brokenness in this world; the gospel says that we are in part to blame...and that we can move from the side of "part of the problem" to the side of "part of the solution"...while still remembering that we will always be part of the problem!

Now perhaps that is oversimplified, but I had to get it out there...and I am quite sure that there is not a single original thought in this post...or in most of my posts! but there it is. Ciao.


Brian Aaby said...

Perhaps it would be helpful for me (and perhaps others) for you to explain your view of our purpose (as humans) on earth... The way that I am understanding most of what you write now needs to be read with a Humanistic mindset of the "here and now" rather than with eternity in mind. It seems as if you have leaned more towards a "be good to (and love) one another." This is certainly part of our purpose (according to Christ). But I am confused as to your view of eternity now. In your mind:
1. Does "sin" separate us from God?
2. Can "sin" be atoned for by just getting back on track and "hitting the mark" or by becoming a better humanitarian?
3. Does "sin" even need to be atoned for in your mind?
I do not want this to seem like I am trying to get in a debate, I am just intrigued by your posts and this chapter of your journey.
Perhaps it seems as if I am looking for "black and white;" and in many ways I am. I certainly do not consider myself a "fundy," but I still hold to a lot of fundamental beliefs of Scripture; that is to say that I believe Scripture to be my foundation, my rock and The Source to know God. With that being said, we are sinful humans and may not grasp fully what God is saying in/through Scripture (but this does not change my pursuit of know that Truth). I do believe God's principles can be found through other spiritual guides (other religions) however, I believe those do not lead to salvation as they are not Scripture (which says that "Jesus is the way the truth and the life" and the only way to Salvation).
So, speaking fo the Eternal (not the here and now) How do you now respond to these statements:
4.The Bible (Scripture) is Truth.
5. Jesus is the only way to Salvation
Thanks Ryan... you stir up many thoughts for people to contemplate and I pray that it does lead them to Truth.

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Hi Brian. I, too, hope that my posts help people to seek out truth.

First let me say that this blog is where I think out loud. That is, it is a place for me to spill the thoughts in my head onto a medium whereby I can process them within a virtual community. NT Wright has a great quote that seems appropriate: "A good deal of what I tell you is wrong, but I can never know what part of it it is..."

Another thing you ought to know is that I hold very few black and whites in regards to things of God... in fact, I would say this is simply because I can see throughout Scripture where things once black become white and vice-versa. I do not think that you will find me certain, either, about a great many things except that the Jewish notion of Tikkun Olam, the a calling on humanity to be co-reconcilers and co-redeemers, is a worthy way to live and Jesus seemed to demonstrate that in its fullest. We are here to help to usher in the Kingdom of God.

That being said, some responses for you...

1. Yes, sin separates from God, from Creation, from proper rhythm of life, from ourselves (our image of God).

2. Atonement is a metaphor. And I think you could see how Jesus is the atonement not just for the 'final Judgement', but also in living in his way, for the now.

3. I do not give weight to the 'total depravity' doctrine that seems to underly your questions. I do not think that there is a consistent case for this Scripturely, as several people sought and found God without necessarily 'asking for their sin to be atoned for in Jesus'.

4. The Bible contains truth, but the Bible does not even say of itself that it is truth... at least not that I am aware of. I would rest with CS Lewis' notion that the Bible is not the Word of God, but the cradle for the Word of God... I might go further and call it a cradle...

5. I think we would probably define salvation in different ways, so this is a hard question to answer.

The humanistic mindset you hear is an existential now-ness that I find in Jesus. The notions of afterlife were so secondary, but that is seldom understood in my opinion. Following Jesus for me is not about an eternal destination in another place as much as it is living out his prayer that "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Hope that helps you see more of where I am coming from. If you would like to read a personal creed that Holly and I put together, you can check it out here. Have a good one!

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

After reading my post, I just wanted to say that this is just my thoughts on the matter right now.

I appreciate your friendship and your dialogue here on this blog.

We may have so different perceptions of 'how things are', but I am encouraged that we can both live in pursuit of God in perhaps different ways... and dialogue about it.

Anonymous said...

what do you mean when you say "atonement is a metaphor"...

interesting page by the way... i dont see eye to eye with you on a lot of stuff, but i appreciate your heart...

keep looking....

Jon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jon said...

Good post, Ryan,

I was just thinking today about the vagueness of the "sin" concept. It seems to mean completely different things to different people. Some have over-sensitive consciences, some under-developed consciences;

On the other hand, the Buddhist idea of "conditioned existence" with the three characteristics of dukkha (suckiness), anicca (impermanence), and anatta (lack of discrete, definable reality) seem to be self-evident, as the fact that the suckiness invariably comes from grasping or rejecting what's there.

I'm losing my job, along with 500 other people in my company. Is it because of sin? Corporate greed could be a factor, but relatively few people even have an awareness of that kind of sin, and it more probably is a matter of our parent company's survival instinct.

However, this is undeniably marked by anicca. My job, like all jobs, is impermanent, I knew that, but now its impermanence is manifest. There's no discrete, definable reality to it. It came into existence because of the decisions of many people, existed through the interdependence of many people working together, and is passing because the circumstances which have kept it are changing.

If I grasped it as something I MUST have, I would be in great pain (big dukkha), and the suckiness would be overwhelming. Similarly, if I tried rejecting the situation, (NO, this ISN'T happening to me!), my dukkha will go sky-high because I'll have wasted time in denial instead of looking for another job.

How to live? By not grasping, nor rejecting, but meeting every situation as it is with appropriate speect, action, thought, etc., cultivating a compassion to love all as myself and God the Source of all, with all I am.

The more there is that non-clinging, open availability to what is, the less dukkha I am likely to create for myself and others.

It seems to me both more nuanced than the sin metaphor, and undeniably universal. I see Jesus as the Ultimate Dharma Teacher, exalted by the Father to distribute his Spirit to all who call on him.


sharon said...

Hello everyone...
Sorry to butt into your conversation. I came across this blog and am reading some very interesting thoughts. Most of them, I've never heard of before. What is Dharma? I've seen the sit-com. But what does it mean that Jesus is the Ultimate Dharma Teacher? I've never heard that before. Sounds interesting. I've heard that Jesus is the Son of God and that he is God. Is Jesus both of these and the Dharma teacher or is there a difference? What is he and what is he not? I'm trying to figure out which religion would be best for my needs.

Sharon Douglas

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Lot's of good comments, thoughts, and interactions.

Chris, I am saying atonement is a metaphor just as it was in the tradition of Judaism (of course, that could be my Greek reading of it). The lamb sacrificed did not 'actually' atone for sin; it was a metaphor of giving to God your best (and your worst, that is, your sin) at the same time. A kind of wholistic process. Atonement theology has been very prevalant in the church since Luther, but it is a theory, a metaphor, not an objective-actual reality as I see it... it is one perspective.

Jon, I love your thoughts on re-understanding the condition of the world and sin.

Sharon, there are many different things people say about Jesus. Dharma in the Buddhist tradition is the proper way of living, the teachings of the Buddha, etc. In Hinduism, it refers more to duty defined by circumstance and society. I think that Jon is saying that Jesus was the Ultimate Teacher of the Way. He was/is the Way, but I think that "The Way" is beyond "the name you need to say to get into the pearly gates" or "just believe Jesus is God".

Good conversation. Glad to be a part.

Anonymous said...

i've seen that in recent years the very nature of atonement/sin/justification has been redifined in some circles of the church... i've read N.T Wright, Steve Chalke, Mclaren, Willard and the other authors who have been leading the charge on this new view... and and after much thought and contemplation, i'm still not ready to to hop on the bus.... I'm still an old kind of Christian...

without getting into the "what is the gospel" debate (theres been plenty written on this question written elsewhere)... i would really like to know what your process has been like, what's led you to embrace a lot of these views (at least it appears that you have from some of your posts, forgive me if I've made a hasty generalization, I'm conservative, thats just what we do)...

are you really convinced that the traditional views are skewed? are you confident in these new perspectives? what are the key scriptures that have helped lead you here...

lets face it,man.. thats a big step... these views on atonement, sin and justification spill out onto so many different areas of theology and practice...

thanks man... i look forward to hearing your response... i know its a loaded question, i apologize, but i would like to hear about the journey...


Jon said...

"Atonement theology has been very prevalant in the church since Luther"

Actually, the big names in it were Paul, Augustine, and Anselm. The Reformation took on an Augustinian view of Atonement, but it was anchored in Western Christianity by Anselm long before Luther.

My understanding of Paul's use of atonement was that it was not what he thought was so important about Jesus, but it was his answer to the Jews he would meet in every town and who were part of every church; "You say that Jesus is the Lord, that he changes everything, but where is the sacrifice?" To those looking for a sacrifice he pointed to Jesus, to those (Greeks and Hellenists) looking for Truth, he pointed to Jesus, to those looking for the "way of life" he pointed to Jesus.

The Bible regularly shows him giving a two-level teaching, "to the Jew and to the Greek," to "the soulish (psychikoi) and the spiritual(pneumatikoi)" etc. I believe his apparent emphasis on atonement was primary to help those who were fixated on the idea of having to appease God to accept Jesus and move on.

Several hundred years later, Augustine came to emphasize atonement and "original sin," a doctrine which later faded in prominence to a more mystical approach.

Atonement thinking finally became firmly identified with Christianity when St. Anselm, Bishop of Canterbury wrote "Why God Became Man," in the 11th century. Karen Armstrong explores this in great depth in her book A History of God, and how it effectively destroyed many aspects of mysticism in Christianity. Such that today, most Christians think of mysticism as something relating to other religions.

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Again, lots of good stuff here. Thanks Brian for starting the conversation.

Perhaps at some point I will chart a sort of quasi-exhastive portrait of my journey, but maybe a bit later.

I will say this to Chris though: I do not think that all the 'new ways' of seeing things are without skew, just as I see all the old ways as potentially skewed. I would say that most anything this side of heaven is going to be skewed, even if it has been church doctrine for thousands of years. I just think that God is bigger than that... and perhaps also more relational and loving than that.

Cheers to all of you seeking truth. May God lead you in your quest.

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Atonement for a Sinless Society was just on Jason Clark's blog. Sounds interesting for those of you looking for another indepth look at this...

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

A final note regarding the 'atonment' theory. Here is something I read about the Eastern Orthodox Church on another blog. I found it interesting and insightful...

Here is the full blog entry/comments.

"the East[ern Orthodox Church] rejects the merely juridical and transactional categories of salvation. in Eastern teaching on salvation has very little to do with the mere appeasement of an angry God. salvation is Eucharistic first, inherently relational/communal, more about marriage and the bridal chamber, not the courtroom. "

Hope that helps to shed some light...