Nearly all religions have some concept of sin and usually it is defined as some sort of immoral deed. It’s so common to see sin as the bad thing we do, or the good thing we didn’t do that it’s nearly impossible to reframe this definition without dismantling our religious frameworks. Within this theological framework, which is tied to our definition of sin, is our understanding of we resolve the presence of sin and where this sin ultimately originates. Thus, if our definition of sin is altered, the other aspects are also altered. Theology is exactly like mathematics in this way.
It’s common in Christian writings for authors to conclude that only the Christian person is fighting the internal battle of sin. I think this doctrine is a mutation in how people understood Paul’s teaching on the influence of God’s Spirit when Paul contrasted it to the “natural man” living without consciousness of the Spirit’s influence.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
This helps us see the purest biblical definition of sin which Paul was teaching, not our common definition a sin=bad deed. For Paul, sin is “all that does not proceed from faith” (Romans 14:23). This wide definition of, “non-faith”, “unbelief,” or “doubt” means that all humanity, not just the Christian, is battling sin and even if we lack a religious framework for understanding it.
Is your definition of sin the same as Paul’s?
Therefore, this study on sin may differ from others because, like Paul, I will presuppose that all humanity, regardless of their religion or irreligion, as Jeremiah said, “Has the law inscribed upon their heart.” This means all people have a moral compass, or a sense of right and wrong, and thus an experiential understanding of sin. It’s not like a radio station that only Christians can tune into. Paul goes out of his way in Rome to teach all comers that the effects of disobeying or obeying this internal law are the same for everyone.
“There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.” (Romans 2:9-11)
Once we clear the air and eradicate our FUBU (For Us By Us) tribal group think, the bible opens up to all readers and not just insiders. This is vital. Sin is not just a spiritual problem for some people, non-faith is personal, corporate, and global. Sin becomes the foundational, irreducible pathology which shows in our psychology, sociology, families, politics, societies, economies, geology, cosmology, and every aspect of living for all humanity. This is the only way to see the sin problem in its proper scale. Every problem is doubt or another way to say it is that all problems are truth problems, we can’t or won’t believe something is true.
The infection clearly goes deep. Much deeper than the casual observer can appreciate. Perhaps this is why the spiritually awakened person is so conscious of it. But it’s not enough to reset our understanding to include all humanity in it’s struggle, the next shift is our understanding of how sin came to be.
Scientists explore and explain the cosmos through the vehicle of theory. Theologians explore and explain the cosmos through the vehicle of story. Both access the truth, but access truth in different ways. The creation narrative in Genesis was never intended to be a text book on the origin of the world. It’s poetry which opens up a reality beyond our empirical frame, and it’s in this story where we can reframe the common religious misconceptions, not double down on them.
It took over a year to prove to my thesis committee but in the end they concurred with my claim that God is the architect of sin. It just sounds wrong and heretical to say it, but it is true. In the garden narrative we learn that “the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.” (Gen 3:1), we learn that “the tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen 2:9), and despite it’s prominent location and desirable fruit, God issues one rule, namely not to eat it under penalty of death.
If God didn’t want Adam and Eve to willfully eat it he could have placed angels with flaming swords to guard them from it as He did the tree of life after they ate it. He could have made it’s branches out of reach, he could have done many things but instead we see the drama unfolding by design as the characters step into their roles. The biggest proof of God securing the fall by his own design comes in chapter 3:21
“Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.”
“Behold” is our key to look closer at the completed work of God within this context. Behold God has given plants for food, behold God declares everything in his creation as very good, and then this next one, behold, man has become like one of us. This third image is not a result of the curse, but a necessary aspect of the completed imago dei of humanity. Apart from the fall, the image of God has no context. The design of God was not the garden, for that was only an incubator, the fallen world was the design. The fallen world comprises all but six chapters of the scriptures where only the garden at the beginning and the city at the end are perfect.
From this story we see the meta-narrative emerge. We are created by God, designed and imbued with not only the sin nature, the capacity for sin, the knowledge of good and evil, but also the image of God. We are created to live in a fallen world and to restore it unto a city. Order, disorder, and reorder. Form, deformation and reformation. Life, death and resurrection. No matter how you frame it, everything was designed to follow the Christoform pattern and it still does. We’ll come back to this.
Chances are good, that if you have a religious upbringing, what I am saying is colliding with many down stream beliefs which you may hold near and dear to your faith. We’ll get to those. While not all readers will believe this narrative to be historically true, there is no one outside the reach of its experiential truth. Who among us has not had a moment of temptation? Show me your most spiritually mature person and I promise they have eaten from this cosmic tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Each of us knows the Serpent’s slick sales pitch. Each of us knows the experience of shame and failure and weakness. All humanity knows the tug in the heart, the yearning, the longing over-desire for power, satisfaction of the flesh, and advantage. The differences between us is our consciousness of just how often this drama plays out in our lives. We can afford to give grace to each other. I’m no better nor worse than you. We all share a part in the play. We all share the same design, and thus designer. The effects of sin are not all ugly. I know that clanks against flawed dogmas, but try and get there. Paul’s definition of sin is so much worse and so much better than religion has taught us.
We’ll stop there today. Sit with the tension of sin being either better or worse than you have considered. We must not be nostalgic for either the garden or the city. Both are ditches into which bad theology drives us. We must not lament the sin of our spiritual parents for they are but archetypes of each of us. We all gain the knowledge of good and evil in countless ways. There is both a horror and a beauty to our amalgamation. The cast of characters are the same in your life as they were for Adam and Eve. We each have a creator in whose image we bear and whom seeks and walks with us. We are imbued with curiosity, the impulse to create and explore, and we are given the most crafty tempter imaginable among an environment rich with fruit and snares. The design of God is not, nor has ever been, perfect victory, but instead, the humanity which emerges from knowing both the good and the evil. This knowledge is the prerequisite for building the City of God.
Paul’s definition of “non-faith” means that our world may in fact just be a perfect place. Perfectly fallen. The perfect backdrop to experience horror and beauty, and these are both required if we are to ever see and know God.