A secret about sin

We’ve been discussing Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God in Graduate Christian Fellowship this semester. Last night we talked about his chapter on sin. Here are some reflections on the subject informed by reading, preparing, and discussing sin in community with my graduate student friends at Wake Forest University.

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard defined sin as, “…in despair not wanting to be oneself before God” (Sickness Unto Death). Similarly he defined faith as the self being grounded in God. By virtue of this definition Kierkegaard adds to our common understanding of sin as violating the law by deepening it to include the fundamental relational nature of sin. Tim Keller writes (alluding to Kierkegaard), “Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from [God]” (The Reason for God, 162).

For this reason Reformed Christians often speak as all sins as manifestation of a deeper sin of pride or idolatry:

Pride seeks to bar Christ from intervening to redeem and restore us because we really believe we can handle it.

Idolatry seeks to prohibit Christ from intervening to redeem and restore us by turning to something other than Christ as a source of redemption or, at the very least, as a justification for our existence.

There’s a little known about sin–a surefire way to have recognize the deep and abiding presence of sin (typically in the form of idolatry or pride) is in the experience of failure. That’s right, failure will expose your heart like nothing else besides perhaps deep suffering. In our affluent and technological society, we often believe we have minimized suffering (especially in the form of disease), but there’s little we can ultimately do to overcome failure–it’s part of life.

How we react to failure shows where we’re looking for our deepest identity. Writes Tom Oden:

Suppose my god [my source of identity or justification] is sex or my physical health of the Democratic Party. If I experience any of these under genuine threat, then I feel myself shaken to the depths….Bitterness becomes neurotically intensified when someone or something stands between me and something that is my ultimate value.

In other words, mess with my gods and you’ll mess with my world. Take a minute to reflect on a deep experience of pain or of failure–what did it reveal to you about your deepest identity? Did you like what you found?

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