Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sin, Morality, The End Of The World - And Other Light Topics

Again, I share some pillow talk . . .

Last night, the girls were tucked in and Lisa and I were sitting and reading in the TV room (Wednesday nights are one of my night's off work), when our older daughter came downstairs, crying. She said she had a dream - you know the kind that come right as you are drifting off - about the end of the world, and it scared her silly. She was quite distraught and my wife sat and held her, finally distracting her with a book entitled Parachuting Hamsters, which could distract anyone.

After she was back in bed, and we were quite sure all were asleep, we were lying in bed and talking about what had happened. Lisa told me that our daughter had said that part of what was running through her head was a discussion they had at Wednesday night church activity about sin, hatred, and death. I was quite angry, and was honest enough to tell Lisa that I thought it just wrong that those kinds of things be so explicitly discussed, especially with someone as young and impressionable as Moriah. I further stated that I was moving away from an emphasis on the whole concept of "sin" in my thinking about the relationship between God and humanity. I also said that the constant harping on sin, and equating it with whatever moral thinking and ethical precepts one considers necessary for human life, to be not only wrong, but unbiblical.

Saying this to a minister is one sure way to have an argument. Except, of course, Lisa is not only my minister, but my wife. She understands that I have some weird ideas sometimes, and that I can defend them pretty well. She listened to what I had to say, and then offered her own view - with an emphasis on sin as brokenness, on the necessity of grace to heal the breach between humanity and God, and our need for a constant seeking out of that grace.

I responded by saying that talking about sin as brokenness is all well and good, except that when it comes down to defining that particular word in practical terms, we end up discussing moral failings, ethical lapses, and mental illness; in other words, it comes down to being bad rather than good. I countered by saying that if that was the case, how do we deal seriously with the tales from the Old Testament in which the Chosen People commit genocide; or emasculate the entire male population of one city because of a rape; achieve the divine promise of securing the Land through the destruction of the indigenous people? How do we square an emphasis on contingent morality with the fact that God's work was done by murderers, adulterers, prostitutes and thieves? How do we put sin in the story of the Garden, when in fact the word is not only not mentioned, it seems pretty clear from the text the story is one of grace (Adam and Eve do not die; there is no mention of death entering the world, because there is no mention of death previously being non-existent)? Whether it's Adam and Eve's relationship with God, Cain and God, David, Solomon, Hosea, Ezekiel, the anointing of Ataxerxes as meshach by Deutero-Isaiah because he released the Israelites from Babylonian captivity after he had conquered Babylon - the stories are about God's grace not in spite of human moral failure and ethical viciousness, but in the midst of those very things.

How else do we talk about the cross of Jesus but the revelation of God's power in the weakness of a failed Messiah dying an ignoble death outside the gates of the City?

None of this is to say that grace is not a necessary component of the Divine-Human relationship. Rather, it is to say that grace isn't some metaphysical medicine we get to cure us of the ontological disease known as original sin. Rather, grace is the description, in the first instance, of the very nature of the Divine-human relationship. As such, grace is always present or it isn't grace. It's something else, some conditional grant of reprieve until we slip up again and do something bad.

In other words, either grace is radical, total, and always present, or it isn't grace.

What do you and your spouse talk about after everyone else is in bed?

Virtual Tin Cup

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