Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Sin by Any Other Name is Still Sin
How do you rate?
Or perhaps, I should ask; do you rate?
Do you rate sins? Most of us do, don't we? We rank sins in order of heinousness, or depth of impact on others, or on how badly they must anger God.
We presume that some sins are worse than others. But are they? Is homosexuality, for example, worse than heterosexual adultery?
Sins may have different consequences. And some sins may be more taboo than others. Some religious people point to the lists of sins in the Old Testament that God said should be punished by death, and figure that those represent a whole different level of human depravity than, say, running a red light or littering.
By the way, those sins punishable by death in the Old Testament? They include heterosexual adultery, and homosexual adultery. In fact, any sexual thought, desire, or activity apart from a man and woman united in holy matrimony is a sin, and is adultery. Sex with an animal is adultery, which God decreed was punishable by death.
And bratty kids? Guess what - being disobedient to one's parents was grounds for death, too. For all you parents out there who are exasperated by your incorrigible children, or think your kids' misbehavior is somehow cute or normal, guess what: In Old Testament times, you could have had your kids killed for not obeying you. Or even for being a glutton, or drunkard.
Freaky, huh? Don't hear those sermons in church often, do you? Shucks, even pastors whose daughters are sexually rebellious could have had them killed.
(This death list includes breaking the Sabbath - how many of us do that regularly? It also includes lying about one's virginity, being a male refusing to be circumcised, certain instances of perjury, and failing to contain one's dangerous animal so that it kills somebody.)
Now what does your sliding scale of sin look like?
Yet we protest: "Oh, lots of pastors' kids act up. It's no big deal."
"My children misbehave all the time. I did too, when I was a kid. It's normal; it's part of growing up."
"Yeah, that bestiality stuff is too weird," many more moralists would agree. "It should be punishable by death. And so should homosexuality. I know that's a politically-incorrect thing to say, but I think homosexuality is just perverse."
But think about it: All sin is perversion to God, isn't it? Not just the sins you may think are perverse. Every culture and people group on the planet sort out the behaviors that the majority of its people think are tolerable and intolerable. We craft codes of law based on activities we're willing to tolerate, and activities we consider to be harmful to ourselves and our community. And the fewer people there are who participate in those activities, oddly enough (!), the more heinous we tend to consider those activities. After all, there aren't a lot of people to defend them. Over time, we tend to normalize common sins, and make uncommon sins taboo.
And we think God does the same thing.
But He doesn't. If your God has a hierarchy of sin, then your god isn't the God of the Bible. Sin is so much a part of what humanity is, we don't really understand how pervasive it is. And we fail to fully appreciate the astounding significance of why Christ had to die for the guilt of our sins.
Meanwhile, even though we have a pretty good understanding of how bad sin is in general, we go about life constructing for ourselves and our society a framework of sins that usually assuages our consciences and pigeonholes our morality on a basis of human performance, not divine expectations. We look about ourselves, laterally, across the spectrum of people we know or learn about in the media. We figure we're not as bad as that person, or maybe not as good as another person. Yet most of us manage to find a false solace in the goodness we present to our family, friends, and pastor.
But God knows all along. He knows all about us. He knows that while our pastor can't kill us for having sex with somebody to whom we're not married, that's the same atrocity - in His perfect accounting of our behavior - as it is for two people of the same gender to have sex with each other.
Obviously, this is not a perspective that is widespread within evangelicalism. Churched voters, for example, tend to believe that abortion is a worse sin than, say, treason, or making fun of handicapped people. Yes, it's Biblical to hold leaders to a higher standard, but the sins leaders commit are all still equal in God's eyes. Yes, it's Biblical to have civic laws which differentiate behaviors, and it's not unBiblical to assign different punishments to different crimes, even though the sins we commit are all still equal in God's eyes.
It certainly seems to make sense to us that some sins are worse than others, but that's because we humanoids like creating hierarchies so we know where we fit within a society.
Interestingly enough, a popular blogger who claims to be a born-again Christ-follower has broached the topic of homosexuality with this perspective in mind. Matt Moore lives in New Orleans and is a repentant homosexual who is transitioning, but not in the way gay activists would like him to. Moore is transitioning from a same-sex lifestyle to a hetero-sex lifestyle. And the process has gotten him wondering: Are all of these sexual labels actually helpful to him, and the rest of us?
In other words, we have these terms like homosexual, heterosexual, gay, straight, and we generally think people are either one or the other. Yet Moore recently asked in his blog if we're not over-emphasizing sexual differentiation at the expense of God's purpose for sex:
"I refuse to [identify] as homosexual or heterosexual or bisexual or asexual or any-other-kind-of-sexual," declares Moore. "Many of my Christian brothers and sisters don’t understand this... Sure, it takes a lot less time to say, “I am gay,” than it does to say, “I am a fallen human being who is riddled with sin and who experiences all kinds of inclinations that seek to entice me away from God’s good design, including a sinful sexual attraction toward the same gender.”
Moore's solution? He wonders if perpetuating specific terminology for various types of sexual sins can actually help create an identity within those sins which participants in those sins can then adopt for themselves.
After all, it's when we adopt a particular sin identity that we make it that much harder for ourselves to repent of it and move away from it. When we're an employee at a particular job for a while, and we separate ourselves from that job (whether by retiring or being terminated) it's often a struggle to move past that former identity as that company's employee. When we lose a spouse, like my Mom recently did, it takes a long time to readjust to being a widow or widower. When kids leave the house for college, the empty-nest syndrome has become a time of angst as parents struggle with their new identities. When people participate in a lifestyle of sexual sin and develop an identity with that lifestyle, it complicates things when the Holy Spirit convicts them of that particular sin, and they seek to repent of it.
See what I mean? See what Moore means?
"I don’t want to operate in a mentality in which my sexual desires have identity-shaping power in my life," reasons Moore. "I am primarily the righteousness of God in Christ—not my jacked up sexuality."
Then Moore says something I've never considered before:
"I don’t believe the content or implications of the Scriptures support the idea that each person has a fixed, immutable set of sexual desires that they are born with. The Bible speaks about homosexual and heterosexual behavior and the desires that drive those activities, but it never implies that some people are heterosexual and some people are homosexual."
Which, if you think about it, neatly erases the whole nature vs. nurture thing. Are some people born gay? No. Are others born straight? No. We're born with a sexual nature that can be perverted through inappropriate sex with people of another gender or the same gender.
Moore sounds pretty convincing:
"I believe the Bible teaches that 1) we all possess a sexuality, and 2) that sexuality has been distorted by sin. If we are going to claim any sexual orientation, it needs to be our orientation to sin. We are all inclined to dishonor God by abusing our bodies in unlawful activities. Whether the object of our desire is a male or a female or an inflatable pool raft (saw that one on the news!), we are all fallen people with broken sexualities."
And guess what? Whether you currently identify as a heterosexual or a homosexual, your sexuality is broken in some form or fashion. It may be "normal" for a man to lust after a woman who is not his wife, but that's an example of broken sexuality, no matter how normal it may be in our culture.
What's taboo, however, is when a man lusts after another man. But that's still an example of broken sexuality; just as broken as "hetero" lust is. We simply accept one as being more common than another. But God doesn't accept any of it.
Normative sin is still sin. Taboo sin is still sin.
That's why God's grace is so much more powerful than we can ever hope it to be.
Praise be to Jesus Christ, and to His holy Father, through the power at work in us by the Holy Spirit!