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Sin / Evil / Dysfunction

A note on terminology: 'Sin' is the word used in the Bible. But it gained such a bad press when Christians of many kinds used it to condemn and be harsh to people, that seculars don't like to use it. Some of them use 'dysfunction' instead. But the idea is the same: functioning in a bad way, a way that is harmful and should not be. In this page 'sin' will be used because (a) it is easier to say! (b) it is less clinical and sounds more straightforward (c) it is more versatile, be both noun and verb, whereas 'dysfunction' can only be a noun. 'Evil', which can be both noun and adjective, is used for both what underlies sin / dysfunction, and the results of that.

This page only started: here are a few notes ...

Why We Should Not Sin

All together are called The Fall. God is angry when we sin in any of the above ways, not just for the sake of being angry, but because of his love. The first is the most basis, and applies to all. If I sin, I am not only going against what he has intended, but I am harming others. Because of his love for those others, God must be angry with me when I sin. Logical, nicht wahr? See more.

Implications

The implications of this is that God will be more angry when his people sin than when the rest of the world sins, and he has higher standards for his people. This is indeed what we can find in Scripture, if we take notice of "Judgment begins with the household of God" and that the standards by which God condemned his peoples of Judah and Israel differ from those by which he condemned others in the start of Amos.

It also implies that sin in society is more to be rooted out than sin in individuals - though these cannot be fully separated. This is why, for example, the Sabbath law and law against adultery are important for society, but there can be mercy on individuals. Unfortunately, both liberal secular society and Christians have tended to privatise these.

But what about Achan's sin of collecting firewood on the Sabbath? We have to understand the dynamics of the relationship between the individual and society, in which each forms the other. What is publicly accepted as OK for individuals begins to be the norm for society, and so if sin becomes accepted then society becomes structured to bend individuals towards sin. When a society is starting out, God has to demonstrate he means it, and it is especially important when it is a society of God's people.

Sin and God's Law

Some will notice that I seem to have left out "because sin goes against God's law / a holy God". No I did not. Rather, God gave his law to show what sin is and to guide us in the ways of good, blessing and shalom. God's law is also to enable the cosmos to function meaningfully. Thus God's law is communication and enabling; above we were talking about what is enabled.

So of course sin goes against God's law - but in this New View that is not the fundamental reason why we should not sin. The view we should not sin because it goes against God's law rests on the fact that God has authority. But the view we should not sin primarily and most importantly because it goes against God's law rests on making the authority of God the most important thing about God. That view comes from Aristotle, not from the Bible. While, in the Bible, God does have authority, it is not his most important characteristic.

Sin must not be confused with crime or transgression of laws. Human society formulates laws to define what is good and bad in individual living in society. In healthy societies, these will reflect the deeper types of good and evil but they must be worked out as expressions thereof in particular historical and cultural situations. In less healthy societies, the laws formulated give a distorted view of what is good and evil, sometimes treating as good what is evil and vice versa. Sin, however, is always against God's deeper law, his 'law for the cosmos'. In the Bible, however, when 'law' is spoken about it sometimes refers to human law, but at other times to God's deeper law.

Types of Sin

Christians tend to lump all sin together, and leave it at that. But perhaps there are different kinds of sin, for example:

Note how the opposite of these brings health and shalom in human living and society. (This list is informed by Dooyeweerd's aspects of normativity and the Shalom Principle.)

If this is so, then the punishment for, or prevention of, each will be different. And the way law is formulated in relation to each of (some of) these gives different laws a different feel.

But we cannot completely separate out different types of sin, for two reasons. One is that they tend to go together and reinforce each other: someone who is selfish often becomes a cheat, and a cheat becomes a liar, and a liar becomes unjust and idolatrous. The other is that there is something that lies under and behind all these different types of sin: our turning away from God in our innermost being (our heart / ego / self), both as individuals and as society.

This is what Christian theology has labelled 'original sin'. It is an attitude or orientation of our hearts / egos away from God and away from his mandate for humanity. Being against God means that in our very natures we will tend to choose evil rather than good in all kinds of types, and turning away from our mandate we will tend to despoil and destroy the rest of creation without a care. Further, our minds become warped, so that, at least with our rationality, we believe we believe that these evils are OK or at least 'not too bad', and we end up unable to even see them as evil. Nevertheless, in our hearts, from time to time, we intuit that they are evil, or at least 'not quite as things should be'. This might be what Paul meant when he said in Gal. 5:22-23 of the fruit of the Holy Spirit of God, that "against / concerning such there is no law". See also my early notes on The Beauty of Original Sin which summarises the longer early essay commenting on Matthew Fox's Original Blessing.

Sin is destructive in a myriad ways. We cannot say, as James warned, that we are OK if we are not a thief or murderer, nor can we feel that we are better than another person because that person does more obvious sins. Jesus made clear that sins of attitude are the worst, and are the easiest to hide from others. And because of our distorted worldview sin is impossible for human beings or even human society to eradicate.

Remedy for Sin

Humans try to eradicate, or at least prevent, sin. For example by enacting laws or setting up incentives (stick + carrot). Rulers in society especially try this because, when they look over the whole of society they see that sin and evil are harmful. Problem is:

So the only remedy for sin and evil must be enacted by God. God entered the world as the human being, Jesus Christ, who was guiltless of all the above sins, and offered himself as a 'perfect sacrifice' to rescind condemnation, let the Holy Spirit of God dwell in us, and make us again like God in our inner being. This enables us to reactivate our mandate. See the whole story. Glorious!


This page is offered to God as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2009, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

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Created: 1 October 2009. Last updated: