Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Broken: the nature of sin

        I had, repeatedly, cautioned my firefly to be careful while hanging the heirloom ornament on one of the highest branches, so it wouldn’t be disturbed later by excitable and boundless puppy energy.  She hesitated, turning the treasure over in her hand, and assured me that she would be.  Stretching, she reached for a sturdy perch; but the desired branch proved too flimsy.  She pulled it back from the tree, ornament outstretched toward me, and humbly asked that I put it on in her stead.  I lauded her wisdom, smiling while grouping three branches together to support the weight of her prize.  When, without pretense, the ribbon unwound and my haughty hold was compromised.  The ornament fell; six feet, with the sickening, slow-motion plummet that foreshadows the loss to come.  And clattered on the wooden floor.  Pieces fled hither and yon, under the tree skirt and into the living room.  Mouth agape, I turned wide eyes to the firefly.  Hers, shimmering with disappointment, answered my disbelief. 


        We had just discussed the inherent irreplaceability of particular things.  We had talked, this ornament nestled safely in its box, about how you can’t go back to certain times, can’t redo certain events, can’t relive certain memories.  The best we can do is try to fix them in the present, mending to the best of our abilities, and learning to muddle through with the cracks and dents our hands have caused.  Or to live without that which was formerly so precious. 

        The firefly’s tears in check, we comforted, and then we did the best we could.  The Officer went into town the next day to procure the right kind of glue.  I adhered flesh to flesh, skin to counter, and dermis to ornament in the process; but eventually the ornament held.  Nonetheless, it remains broken.  The cracks, not visible unless you know where to look, are there.  And they are fragile.  It will require extra care every year, in both packing away and hanging.  There will likely be times that it fractures again, so prone because of the fissures already there. 

For there is nothing I can do to make it all the way whole again.

        It is the condition of human being to live thus.  We are each broken.  Our cracks sometimes visible in the right light, other times, they remain hidden deep within.  We are especially fragile and prone to break in specific, familiar ways.   

        Yet, we were not created so.  Bruce Demarest and Gordon Lewis assert that the Imago Dei remains ontologically[1] “undestroyed” in “all persons, however dominated they may be by the works of the flesh…all humans in their being remain constitutionally image-bearers.”[2]  However, these two learned men assert that all people inherited depravity or hereditary corruption and guilt for Adam’s sin.[3]  They utilize Jesus’ statement in John 8:34 to accommodate their belief:

I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

And they affirm that Paul says in Romans 7:5 “in our fallen condition, [human being is] ‘controlled by the sinful nature.’”[4]  Thus, Demarest and Lewis articulate that all of humanity’s slavery to and control by sin illustrates that the sin nature is transmitted from Adam, generationally, to all of human as members of the same race.   

Ray Dunning, though agreeing that all of humanity is sinful, does not agree that in a fallen and sinful state, humanity can retain the Imago Dei.  He points out that the entire New Testament is devoted to the process of salvation, which is the restoration humanity, through Jesus Christ, to the image of God because “man is ‘essentially good but existentially estranged.’”[5]  If this restoration is necessary, then humanity is assumed to have fallen away from rightly bearing the image of God.[6]  Prior to the Fall, there existed between human being and God a filial relationship [a son or daughter relationship].  It is in this unbroken relationship that Adam could reflect the image of God.[7]  However, after the Fall, humanity became sinful, because “sin does not exist independently of human beings,” nor is it “to be regarded as some flawed or defective part of human nature.”[8]  Sin is the perversion of the natural drives within material creation; in action, it is the misuse of the created order, a moral condition of a personal being.[9]  Thus, while sin thwarts God’s purposes, it does not ontologically change the nature of human being. 

                In the end, Demarest, Lewis, and Dunning all agree that the sin nature inherent in each human being does not change his or her ontological composition.  This premise can be extremely important in the communication of the gospel, so that no matter what sin a person has engaged in, nothing makes him, or her, an inherently bad person.  This also translates into the realm of spiritual development; for many Christians continue to struggle with certain temptations or sins after conversion and would likely benefit from the knowledge that they are created “good.”  Finally, for our treatment of fellow human beings, we have to recognize that a person’s sin is not the sum of his/her identity.  Rather everyone should find their identity and worth in Christ; and those who call themselves His followers, ought to see the Imago Dei in the lost, even if the lost cannot.     

                We are all broken; we are all estranged.  But we can be mended.  We can be healed.  We can be made whole.  All by the finished work that started with an infant in a manger.  A Creator God, having made inherently good beings who chose evil and self over relationship, put aside the gravitas of heaven to be born into this fallen world, to live among sinners, to die to restore humanity and all of creation to what it was meant to be. 

This is the truth of Immanuel, God with us.       

Want to know where we've been in this series?  Click the links below for more. 

[1] Existentially
[2] Demarest, Bruce and Gordon Lewis.  Integrated Theology: Knowing the Ultimate Reality of the Living God. vols 1 & 2.  Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1987.  Volume 2, page 237.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Dunning, H. Ray.  Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology.  Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1988.  Page 160.
[6] Ibid., page 151.
[7] Ibid., page 157.
[8] Ibid., page 275
[9] Ibid., pages 246, 275.

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