Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Is Sin?

A good definition of sin is helpful in dealing with just about any issue involving God and man. Unfortunately, the Bible is not as straightforward as one might think in providing one. At one point, sin is described as breaking the law; at anothersin is said to have been in the world even when there was no law. If nothing else, that certainly tells us sin is more than breaking a rule.

Therefore, the mere concept of lawbreaking is insufficient for defining sin, since sin does not need to reference a command in order to exist or be described. In light of that, let me suggest, as I have before, that sin is nothing more than the exertion of will contrary to the will of God. A command from God would certainly invoke such a definition, but then too would any awareness of what God's will was, whether it came through conscience, conviction or comprehension. Really, will exerted presumptiously, without regard to God, could invoke a charge of sin, even if done in complete ignorance of God's will

Now, the Bible does say that sin is not imputed, or reckoned against one's record, where there is no law. There must be some distinction that God maintains between knowingly transgressing and ignorantly transgressing his will. Yet, as is clearly stated in the Word, death has spread to all humankind because all humans sin, even though many have had not so much as an inkling of the law. So, even if sin is not reckoned to one's account apart from the law, it still leads without exception to the penalty for sin which is death.

A child reaching for a flame, may have had no reason to believe mom or dad did not want her to do such a thing, but may nonetheless be greeted with a quick smack on the fingers as she tries to do so. She won't be punished further as she might have been had she known better, but she did receive a penalty regardless! Discovering that something is against God's will after the fact doesn't alter that it was against his will before. In other words, sin does not require the offense to be an overtly realized transgression on the part of the offender in order to be sin. 

If one knows God's will, or if one merely suspects what may be God's will, or if one is completely oblivious to God's will concerning any willful exertion, that one sins by taking a course contrary to God's whether in word, deed, or thought. Of course, if all occurs according to God's will (as in determinism), it follows that there is and could be no sin. Since it is scripturally clear that sin does exist, it is also quite clear that stuff happens that God did not will. Sin is stuff that is not "his"

Therefore, sin is an unfortunate consequence of freewill. Without freewill sin would not and could not occur, but then neither would love nor the image of God exist.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Is Evil Necessary for Good to Exist?

I have said that only God can handle being God-like. What I meant by that was that only God can act freely (i.e. God-like) while acting in agreement with his own will in every instance. If that was not the case he would be a contradiction, and that can never be the case. It's not that he actually has to weigh his choices before acting, his very acts are the expression of his will, it's just that God is neither conflicted nor tempted in acting.

Any other agent acting freely, autonomously, is bound to transgress God's will at some point. Though that agent is made in God's likeness, since that agent is not God, that agent cannot independently replicate God's will. God did not, indeed could not, make himself in creating such agents, he merely created something that had a power of will analogous to his own (i.e. they do as they please). To be able to replicate God's will precisely an agent would have to be God.

If that is so, it means that given the decision to create independent, freewill creatures, sin (or evil) would be inevitable. Generally, if something is inevitable it can be said to have the quality of being necessary. If sin (or evil) is necessary to the creation of God's image, that would be sufficient to establish that evil was necessary, at least for the particular good of making creatures in the image of God. Furthermore, if that is the case, sin and evil would have been authored, knowingly, purposely, by God upon the decision to create.

That is not case, however, because the inevitability in question is not the result of a decree from God concerning the agent's will (as in determinism). Instead, the inevitability arises from the agent's distinction from God in identity. The agent sins because he can will like God but isn't God. Therefore, God is not the author of such sin, the free agent is--even though God could foresee such sin and did author the freewill that made it possible.

I have already established that the freedom of will entailed in the image of God was good per se. So, if inevitability does not translate into necessity and the authorship of sin (evil), it cannot lead to the conclusion that evil was necessary for that good to exist. If, in fact, there was a way to unite the identity of God with the identity of the agent, freewill would not necessitate transgression at all, as is ultimately demonstrated by Jesus, the Son of Man.

However, I am forced to conclude that if such unity was not possible, indeed, if it was not God's purpose in creating man in God's image, freewill with it's inevitable failure to sin would have been immoral, even though God was not the author of the sin. If that unity were not possible, the only conceivable end in creating free agents would be to destroy them in judgment. That may be judiciously righteous, but there is no way it could be beneficial to the creature. Redemption had to be baked into the cake at creation, or the cake was baked with evil intent.

Hopefully, it is becoming clear to you, dear reader, that this is all resolved in faith, that is in trusting submission to God. The Bible tells us that Jesus, himself God in the flesh, learned obedience, while in his earthly frame, by the things he suffered. It may not be possible to learn submission in any other way. Even Adam and Eve had their opportunity to learn obedience via this route as they fell to sin, although their test of suffering (self-denial) was meager at best.

It takes freewill in order to express this faith. Paradoxically, that same freewill inevitably leads to sin (and evil). Faith, it seems, is the counterweight to willfulness within the human soul. I think it's safe to say that if faith could have beaten willfulness to the punch, evil would never have existed (at least theoretically).

When a free agent, coaxed by the Spirit of God, voluntarily yields, or submits, to the place of God (Lord) and to the will of God, that one becomes open for God to share his Spirit (person) with. When God's Spirit is fully engaged in such an agent, God's identity is united with the identity of that agent, and the exercise of freewill becomes harmonized with the will of God. That will be the joy of eternity for God and redeemed man.

For the joy set before him, Christ endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.         Hebrews 12:2

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Problem of Physical Evil

Why does an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God allow evil such latitude in our age? That God will judge such in a time to come, and cause it to cease thereafter forever is an answer, but it seems a marginal one at best to those living through this age. And to be honest, eternal judgment in the Lake of Fire for the evil done temporally seems only to exacerbate the problem, fighting evil with evil for all intents and purposes. Natural evil--catastrophes, pestilence, genetic abnormalities--seems capricious and only adds to the miserable mystery.

Physical evil certainly is a vexing problem. It rains (too much or too little) on the just and the unjust, earthquakes do not shake merely the morally shaky, tornadoes have been known to sweep through Bible-believing churches while the congregation was in the midst of worship and prayer, and pestilence, mutations and snakes strike apart from any discernment protocol. God may have pulled the plug on this creation because of sin, and let it slowly spiral down the drain, but on the surface, for those twisting in the vortex, it doesn't seem very just or loving. Who can make sense of it?

What needs to remembered in such considerations is that, according to God's standard, it's not the other guy who is evil, it's us--all of us, every single one that has ever come into existence. By God's reckoning, any opposition to his will is evil, even merely eating a piece of fruit he did not want us to. We think we are innocent (so long as we have not overtly harmed another creature), but that is just not the way God sees it. The truth is that humans do as they please, they do without regard to God, they do in opposition to God, and thus they demonstrate that they are, in fact, evil.

That humans have what opportunity they do have to live in a dying world is an accommodation of the magnanimous grace of God. "Wait just a minute," you might be thinking, "we didn't ask to be born at all, let alone the way we are where we are." How is allowing some of us to be particularly evil, while letting all of us live in an environment consistently evil, grace? Well, I think that it demonstrates that God has not written off the human race.

Everything could have ended with the failure of the prototype (Adam and Eve). God could have wiped out everything at The Fall, and been justifiably done with it. Starting over again would not have been an option, because in granting a creature freewill, the same evil to which the prototype succumbed would have been in play for any built like them (in the image of God, that is). The truth is, only God can handle being like God: those that are merely like God, but not God, must live submitted to God in love and faith.

So, though God cannot allow evil to stand and so pulled the plug on this universe, in his love for what was made good, he patiently continues what seems to us the slow, inexorable unfolding of judgment, which is physical evil, because there is a possibility of redemption. Evil creatures, which rebelled in the darkness of ignorance, can be illumined and change their mind and heart about going their own way. If they can truly take to heart the necessity of submission to and agreement with God, he can recast and reset them in a new universe untainted by the fall of the originals.

So there really isn't a problem with physical evil, but there's still a bit more I'd like to talk about...