The Human as Sinner

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A generation ago a famous psychiatrist named Karl Menninger wrote a book titled ‘What Ever Happened to Sin?’ Strictly speaking, sin can only be against God, so the question might seem beyond the ken of a doctor, but one readily gets the point. We resist the concept, in spite of its manifest evidence all around us, addiction, abuse, hate, self-harm, dishonesty and illusion, etc. We need to reclaim the concept, not least for its explanatory power.

The place to start once again, are the opening chapters of Genesis. Sin is the opposite of the intention for us from God, that we take our rightful place as a creature, a worshipper, a steward. Sin is setting ourselves up over against Him, ultimately as His rival (we would be ‘as gods,’ Genesis 3. ). All the major definitions fall under this general rubric: rebellious, selfish, self-loving, idolatrous, etc. One way to put the matter is this: what modern culture sees as the goal, isolated self-determination, the tradition saw as hellish.

Let me add a few additional remarks. First sin envelopes us in such a way that we are both its victim and perpetrator. Why there should be sin in a world made by and for a loving God is a mystery, a starkly irrational reality, a surd. Another complexity is what to make of death. Since creaturely life is not sinful, neither should its cessation- Adam might have moved smoothly into another kind of God’s presence. But we the fallen do not experience it so. It is a fearful thing, the ‘last enemy.’ (I Cor. 15:26). We need look no further to find evidence of the fall.

Read Romans 1, 5, and 7: what conclusions may we reach about sin?

In the Image of God

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At the heart of all that we have to say about the human being is a certain balance or tension. To say that we are creatures is to say something equally true of a gorilla or a horse, but now to add that they are creatures ‘in the image’ is to say something unique to them. Another way to put the matter is this: we too are made in the sequence of creation laid out in Genesis 1. But we are the last, the culmination, the ones to give voice to God the praises of all, the creatures able to worship, which is implied in the Sabbath rest of the seventh day. This purpose for us is intended by God, and so cannot be erased.

For centuries theologians have asked in what our image-of-God consists. Is it thought or speech or relationship or dominion over other creatures? Arguments for and against each can be given. One may also wonder whether it is something we have individually or collectively.

Now if we imagine it to be that we are made to be able to and inclined toward worship, what might we conclude from this? Worship includes relation, language, and thought, and still the activity itself is unique to us. Furthermore it may be seen even when it is distorted into what the Bible calls ‘idolatry.’ To this we now turn.

True or false: the human heart has a God-shaped hole.

Compare the first and last chapters of the Bible.



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