Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sunday Inquiries: #5

For the wages of sin is death...*

What to do, what to do; what do we do with this pesky sin thing? Ol' Adam took that first bite of betrayal and ever since we human folk have been living in a haze of dereliction and benedictarnoldian civility.

Our theology, our very make-up as Christians, rests firmly on the life and actions of Jesus of Nazareth. We believe and hold ever conscious his act of death, having carried the burden of our sin by the outpouring of his blood. Thousands of years of animal sacrifices looked to this singular moment in history. Isaac, Abraham's only begotten son through his wife Sarah, was nearly sacrificed as what appears now as a Godly foreshadow of this explicit act of substitutionary atonement.

Paul makes it easy-peasy for us in Romans 6:23, For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Voila! Done and done. Sin equals death. Jesus equals salvation. My sin kills me and Jesus saves me. Sounds good, yes?

Well, yes. It does sound good... but what about sin that doesn't kill you? Hypothetically speaking (and trust me, this is stiiiictly hy-po-thet-hi-cal!), what would the wages of non-deathly sins be?

This conversation can very easily and swiftly fly right on over into the equally mind-numbing topic of degrees of sin and punishment, but for our purposes today we will stick with just one simple premise from one simple passage.

Premise: Not all sin leads to death. 

And without further adieu, let us glance over to old grandfather version of John the Apostle (the one that calls us 'little children' all the times and slips Werther's Originals into our pockets when the parents aren't looking). Just a few ticks before he wraps up his First Letter, he writes a very strange little string of words.
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life -- to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. 1 John 5:16-17
Perhaps here John is alluding to the act of blaspheming the Spirit, which Christ informs us is the only unpardonable sin.** But taken as a whole, I'm simply left dumbfounded by the opaqueness of John's statement. He doesn't go to any measure at all to define his terms. Both those sins which lead to death as well as those undeath-leading sins remain decisively unclear in definition.

Such uncertainty brings into question the DNA of what sin is. The overarching description: Sin is that which separates us from God remains wholly intact no matter what wrinkles we come across, but the constitutionality of what falls under the umbrella of sin is always a thing of much fogginess. God sets out to make clear that there are several forms of sacrifice for the Old Testament Israelites, even so far as calling into practice the necessity of atonement for 'sins of accidence'. That one tends to bludgeon my easy-to-comprehend concept that sin is about motive and desire rather than act and substance. Catholic folk through the centuries liked to make categories. They had sins of commission and then the more shrewdly veiled sins of omission. I never liked dwelling on those ones.

Whilst mumbling through High School, I resolutely defined the moral world as a simple place: there were good things and bad things, and that which was bad was nothing more than the perversion of that which was good. Under this worldview, as long as I wasn't overtly going about sinning, I was doing good. I allowed for no hierarchy. I was sinning or I was doing good. There was no gray. This philosophy then allowed me to conceivably live my life as a couch potato with no regrets. But since those days, it just so happens that I have this little thing called a conscience, or, as I would reckon it to truly be, this Ghost living with me. And He makes me feel certain ways about certain things I do or do not do. And this Fella seems to insist gutturally to me that sitting on the couch all day is, in fact, a subtle action which separates me from my Lord.

In order to some semblance of order, I still need some ground rules. I need to get a grasp on what this sin business is and is not. I admit here, I find it hard to find order in John's words here, but rather, am comforted and assured from his writings in his Gospel:
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment... John 16:8
*All photos taken from Tell Your Children (1936) aka Reefer Madness

**And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Luke 12:10