Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Reason for God: The Problem of Sin

Notes from The Reason For God (Tim Keller)

The world is pretty messed up today. According to the Christian faith, our biggest problem is sin. We are not just victims of psychological drives or social systems. All sins are attempts to fill the God-shaped voids inside of us, trying to stuff it full of all sorts of things. But only God may fill it.

Don’t Christians have a bleak, pessimistic view of human nature? No, because unless we are freed to see our own flaws, we could not start on the road to healing. It is a great resource for hope.

What is Sin?

Kierkegaard (in Sickness unto Death) defines sin as the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from Him. That means everyone gets their identity, sense of worth and being valuable, from somewhere (wealth, family, status etc). We are made to love God supremely, center our lives on Him above all else and build our very identities on Him. Anything other than this is sin.

Most people think of sin as ‘breaking rules’, but the First Commandment is have no other gods before God. Sin is not just doing bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things. It is trying to create a sense of self by making something else as your ultimate source of purpose, significance and happiness.


In Chariots of Fire, Harold Abrahams explains why he works so hard to win the Olympics gold medal: “I have ten lonely seconds to justify my existence”. Our culture increasingly values people on the basis of what they do, earn or produce, as opposed to recognizing their intrinsic worth.

If justifying our existence on earth is entirely our own responsibility, then failure is devastating. When Harold loses a race, he symbolically loses everything. And even when he wins, victory clearly feels strange to him, even anti-climactic. 'I'm forever in pursuit,' he confesses, 'and I don't even know what I am chasing.' We could deify romantic love too, putting cosmic significance on our love partner to fulfill our lives. But that sets us up for disappointment because no one can bear the burden of ‘godhood’. We are really seeking redemption, not only romance. Everyone is building his identity on something.

Personal Consequences of Sin

If I build my identity on being a good parent, I have no true ‘self’ – I am just a parent, nothing more. If something goes wrong with my children or my parenting, there is no ‘me’ left. If our ‘idol’ comes under threat, we are shaken to the core and paralyzed by fear. If you lose it due to someone else’s failure, you will be bitter. If you lose it due to own failure, you will hate yourself. Inordinate love: We turn good things into ultimately things. Only if you identify is built on God and his love can you have a self that can venture or face anything. Augustine: Our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.

Building our lives centered on finite substitutes not only destroys us if we don’t get our hearts’ desires, but also if we do. Few of us get all our wildest dreams fulfilled in life so it’s easy to live with the illusion that if we get our wishes, we’d be finally happy. But Cynthia Heimel wrote about people she knew before they became famous movie stars: They become more angry, manic, unstable and unhappy when they get to the top. Why? “That fame thing that was going to make everything OK, and fill them with ha-ha-happiness had happened and the next day they woke up and they were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable”.

Social Consequences of Sin

Sin had devastating effects on the social fabric. Jonathan Edwards (The Nature of True Virtue): Human society is deeply fragmented when anything (family, tribe, nation or race) but God is our highest love. If we get our identity or sense of worth from economic progress or political views, then politics is not really about politics, it is about us. Through our cause we are getting a self, our significance so we must despise or demonize those who threaten it. If we are profoundly proud of our open mindedness or morality, we will be extremely hostile toward people we think are bigots or immoral.

So racism, class superiority and sexism are not just caused by lack of education. The real war is in our disordered hearts, wracked by inordinate desires for things that control us, that lead us to feel superior and exclude others and that fail to satisfy even when we get them.

Only if God is our ultimate good (summum bonum) and life center, will we find our heart drawn out not only to people of all races/classes but to the whole world in general.

Cosmic Consequences of Sin

In most ancient creation stories, the world is the by product of some kind of chaotic war or violence. But the Genesis account depicts a world brimming with dynamic, abundant forms of life that are interdependent and mutually enhancing. The Creator is delighted by what He had made and declared “It is all good”. The Hebrew word “Shalom” means absolute wholeness – full, harmonious, joyful, flourishing life among all parts of creation. 

Human beings are so integral to the fabric of the world that when they turn from God, the world itself unraveled – disease, genetic disorder, famine, natural disasters, aging and death itself. Romans 8: The whole world is now ‘in bondage to decay’ and ‘subject to futility’.

What Can Put It All Right?

So we should all turn over a new leaf and try harder to live a moral life, right? C.S. Lewis: “The Christian way is different – both harder and easier. Christ says: Give me ALL. I don’t want just this much of your time or money or work – so that your natural self can have the rest of it. I want you. Not your things… I will give you a new self instead. Hand over all the desires, not just the ones you think wicked but the ones you think innocent – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead”.

The solution is not simply to change our behavior, but to reorient and center the entire heart and life on God. If I am a grass field, all the cutting will keep the grass less but won’t produce wheat. If I want wheat, I must be plowed up and re-sown. Does that sound scary? But if you don’t live for Jesus you will live for something else. If Jesus is your center and you fail Him, he will forgive you. Your career can’t die for your sins. Everybody has to live for something (our ‘god’). We are all pursued by guilt because when we fail to meet the standard, that idol punishes us and makes us feel worthless. 

But what if my career/family is doing great? Well, if there is a God who created you, then your soul simply cannot be filled up by anything less. Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive Him, will fulfill you completely and if you fail Him, will forgive you eternally. 

1 comment:

Ronny Deddy Rondonuwu said...

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