The Evolution of Sin
So it's an aspect of divine condescension but it also shows how God desires us to be like him.
Absolutely. And I think there's another important thing that should be emphasized here.
A lot of the texts that I go through in this book, especially when we touch on the theme of treasures in heaven, became points of considerable disputation between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century. The conflict revolved around the question of whether human works could be meritorious in the eyes of God. And the quote from Ephrem is very much to the point in trying to settle that question in a way I think both traditions could be happy with. Ephrem certainly sees it as important for individuals to give alms, to follow that work, and to benefit from its meritorious effects. But, as Ephrem says, the very merits we would acquire by virtue of giving alms are really the merits that God has, in a sense, provided in the first place. So it's a human work at one level, but an act of pure divine grace at another.
I think many readers will have the same thought I had when I finished the book: What would Gary say are the dominating metaphors for sin and forgiveness in the church today?
I think the dominant language of sin and forgiveness is that of the therapeutic. And this would go both for evangelical and mainline Christians: the seriousness of sin is often dramatically underplayed. What might have been seen as sin in the past is now understood as something reflecting my upbringing or other formative circumstances. It's much easier to talk about fulfillment and human flourishing than it is to talk about sin.
Having said that, though, the evidence of horrible human sinfulness is still present, and from the most unlikely quarters one will find a return to the biblical idiom.
In what was to become a celebrated address on racism, then-candidate Barack Obama referred to slavery in this country as our original sin—a sin that had left a stain on our national character. Well, there we have an individual rhetorically reaching back into the Bible to make the point that sin really has a certain "thingness" to it—it has a very unfortunate habit of hanging around long after it has been committed. So even within the contemporary realm, the need to reach for biblical metaphors can still be found.
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Previous Christianity Today articles on sin include:
Sin: The Rest of the Story | What the snark-infested news media just don't seem to understand. (October 29, 2009)
Grace Amid the Vices | Exploring the seven deadly sins doesn't have to be depressing. An interview with Glittering Vices author Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung. (September 25, 2009)
Amazing Sin, How Deep We're Bound | Finding the courage to trust in grace. (May 1, 2004)
Let God Handle Your Sin | The Christian life isn't so hard when you let God do all the work. (March 1, 2004)