Cut the Pious Crap and Technical Jargon: Here’s How I Define Sin (Miniblog #224)
Sin. It’s literally the oldest trick in the book. If I can cut the pious crap and be honest with you, my knee-jerk response when I hear the word is not unlike that of my atheist friends. I roll my eyes and prepare myself for a) Dana Carvey’s Church Lady character, b) Ray Comfort’s confrontational evangelism spiel,1.Or is humble enough to admit that they’re doing their best but the issues surpass their present expertise. or c) a jargon-laden academic treatise about our legal standing before God by an unquestionably well-intentioned albeit painfully naive fellow who’s blissfully unaware regarding his dearth of knowledge about both Ancient Near Eastern or ancient Roman legal practices.2.I don’t agree with John Piper on much anymore, but I still love his observation, “Scientists who spend their lives searching to find a cure for cancer spend the majority of their time studying cancer. Only when we understand the depth of the problem can we truly grasp and appreciate its solution.” I don’t know any scientists studying cancer to confirm or deny that claim. Nevertheless, the larger point rings true to my ears. Every once in a while, however, I get surprised. I’ll run into someone who a) communicates about church things with self-criticism and grace toward others, b) presents the Gospel not with vitriol but rather genuine compassion, and/or c) actually knows what they’re talking about in terms of biblical exegesis pertaining the field of hamartiology.1 Thoughtful people like that actually make me want to think about sin, which is good because it’s an infinitely important theme within Scripture.2 So, anyway, how do I define sin? While I’m no student of ancient Hebrew, I’m told it literally means “missing the mark.” In the West sin tends to be defined in terms of lawlessness.33.For example, Aquinas, who was himself quoting Augustine, said a sin is “a word, deed, or desire, contrary to the eternal law.” It’s rebellion against God’s will. The primary consequence they emphasize is our broken legal standing before God. In the East sin tends to be seen in terms of separation.4 It’s far more about our impaired relationships, both among people and between us and God.4.It’s “falling short of the glorious purpose for which God created mankind.” While not devoid of Western influences, my perspective on this one is far more Eastern in perspective. Nevertheless, my definition comes from Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller, who may have taken it from someone else. Keller defines sin as “that which is detrimental to human flourishing.” I heartily agree.55.It seems to me this definition accurately upholds the beautiful simplicity of the literal definition, focuses upon the East’s relational view, and leaves more than enough room for important elements from the West’s historically overdeveloped and undercontextualized legal understanding.