Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Is a sense of sin necessary for Christianity?


Did St Paul Get It Right In His Letter To The Romans Chapter 7


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A few days ago I was discussing with a small group a Bible reading we heard in church recently. Everyone else said it didn't make sense. 

They felt it didn't communicate in today's world. They said it lacked insight and was just plain wrong. 

I took the opposite point of view. I thought it did make sense because it described how we are, it delineated the human psyche. 

What was the disputed passage? Chapter 7 of Paul's letter to the Romans, where he says he finds that the good he wants to do is constantly undermined. And he asks how does this happen? Paul's argument is that there's something which he calls sin that is at work, somehow altering the balances, tipping things in the wrong direction. 

 Now I quite understand why many, many contemporary Christians think that this is all nonsense. In fact I used to agree with them. But it seems to me that life today shows us otherwise. The very business of living - trying to live a Christian life - makes us more or less compromised in virtually every situation where a moral judgment is required. We fail to see what our own blinkers are. 

I think that's what Paul was getting at. He want to know what are our presuppositions. For him it was the Jewish law. He wants to know what are his own personal inbuilt biases. And that's sound, as far as I can see. Because when we operate solely out of the sense of our own moral correctness, we sin. Why? Because it's failing to take into account for our own limitations. 

Sin is, of course, an unpopular word today. It's been like that for 3 or 4 centuries. Yet I think it is always timely to remind ourselves about it. Although I am personally liberal in my theology, I need to be constantly reminded of its limitations. H. Richard Niebuhr's saying is always relevant. Beware: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” 

And that's the kind of consequence you can have in liberal theology. The consequences of doing away with a sense of sin may be well be the undoing of Christianity. 

So, what then is sin? It's not primarily about keeping petty rules and regulations. Nor living with the consequences of poor decisions, difficult though those always are. Nor is it even about terrible crimes and punishment. 

At its root sin is an estrangement from the sense of being with God. It is this sense of being with God which nourishes not only the deepest roots of our individuality but also collectively our common humanity. I think Paul was on the right track. .