Monday, 10 December 2012

10th December 2012

In creating humankind, Christians believe God made possible evolution of discernment between what builds up and what destroys, what's healthy and what's harmful for well-being. This discernment, our moral sense, works at a collective and personal level. It can be distilled into reasoned argument, but is more complex than this. It touches on every aspect of relatedness between self, others and God. So far the word sin has not been used. It belongs at the highest level of thought about human relatedness.

Sin is identified with mistakes or decisions causing needless suffering and chaos in life. It is rooted in self-centred motivation or attitude - putting self before others and before God, if God is acknowledged at all. The Genesis stories see suffering and misfortune, guilt, shame and blame emerge from an original human disregard and rebellion against God. Sin is about refusal to relate to God and respond to One who is source of all existence. 

Sin happens because humans are free, not prevented from doing what isn't good for them. Learning is part and parcel of human destiny. We come to understand what sin is by the damage it does. Experience teaches us which actions and attitudes do us no good. We discover through the passage of life that disquieting inner longing for God is better acknowledged and explored than it is ignored.

Scripture regards sin not merely as transgression against divine order, attracting punishment for the offence, it also regards sin as a spiritual ailment to be cured if we are to 'have life and have it in abundance'. With Christianity historically a cultural force in civilisation and nation building, it was inevitable that understanding sin in terms of crime and punishment would dominate.

Different generations and cultures have imagined Hell as a place of punishment, varied in relation to what kind of retribution people fear suffering most. Dante's classic portrayal of people in Hell reflected existing hierarchical social order. Measures of punishment were meted out to different ranks of people, according to the extent they abused their abilities, power and responsibility, or else surrendering themselves to passions that betrayed their humanity. 

The seven strata of Dante's hell are named after seven deadly sins - lust, greed, pride, vanity, anger, slander, avarice - each containing the appropriate corrective, applied eternally to all refusing to recognise their faults and failings. This status quo somewhat reflects the Gospel story of Dives and Lazarus, but doesn't equate with the Petrine idea of Christ rising from the dead evangelising spirits imprisoned in Sheol.

All ultimately face judgement, evaluation of their lives and consideration of their sin. The human face of God imagined by the church in the person of Jesus is one who enquires. "What have you done?" There's more in Scripture about Jesus as diagnostician and healer than about Jesus as judge.

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