Killing Shalom

 

I believe sin is the willful disregard for the things of God. It includes the intentional denial of God’s existence, the intentional disobedience to the commandments of God, pride, and placing anything above God (such as self, money, family, fame, status, etc.) As we explored last week, sin actually originated in Heaven. What’s more, we are all sinners but Jesus is our antidote to sin:

For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [atonement, payment] by His blood, through faith. (Romans 3:22-25, NKJV).

But how else can we define sin?  Plantinga states that, “in short, sin is culpable shalom-breaking”[1]. Additionally he states that “sin is blamable vandalism” against God’s design of shalom and is thereby “an affront to their architect and builder”[2]. These quotes help me begin to ponder a wider definition of sin, but they are incomplete without Plantinga’s definition of shalom which “means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts naturally employed”[3] (emphasis in the original). Sin, as Plantinga presents it, is a willful or intentional thought or act that somehow disrupts someone’s or something’s flourishing. This is somewhat of a flimsy summary without a concrete, though somewhat minor, example.

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This is a simple illustration of something we have all seen, and quite possibly have done: litter. If I litter, something like throwing trash onto a beautiful landscape, I’ve now willfully disturbed nature by introducing a man-made artifact into the natural beauty. I have littered; I have juxtaposed God’s creative beauty with my personal refuse. I have opened the door to an animal or bird mistakenly eating a littered item and possibly getting sick or dying because of it. I have also marred the aesthetic beauty of the area, thus diminishing another person’s joy of what could have otherwise been a peaceful spot of solitude and praise toward God.

I have disrupted the shalom of an otherwise pristine beauty. This blemish now retards the flourishing of both the natural realm and the relationship to other humans because they now to have to endure this blemish. This other person may be the one to fix the blemish in an attempt to restore the area to its near natural state. How do they do this? By picking up the ugly trash I left behind. Once they pick it up, they have to properly dispose of it. This person is now not only enduring the blemish, but is now having their time impacted due to fixing someone else’s vandalism.

I realize this example does not rise to the same level as adultery or murder, but it is a subtle and important, though not readily recognizable, example of shalom disturbance. It illustrates the tarnished interior of the functional aspect of the image of God discussed last week. It is the insidious nature of sin working in simple areas of our lives where we willfully disturb shalom. As this willfulness grows, it expands into greater expressions of shalom-disturbing acts. So take this simple example of littering into other areas where we begin willfully harming humanity.  If littering is shalom disturbance, thus sin; then how much more of a “shalom disturbance” are the easier to recognize sins such as lying, rape and murder?

But lest we lose hope, this flawed aspect of our image of God can begin to be rehabilitated through Jesus Christ:

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29.)

Christ died for our sins. (1 Corinthians 15:3.)

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38.)

[1] Cornelius Plantinga, Jr Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way it’s Supposed to Be: A breviary of sin (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), p. 13.

[2] Ibid., p. 16.

[3] Ibid., p. 10.

 

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Image

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What is my image? Is it what I portray on social media via my computer? Is it what the mirror reflects? Is it what other’s think of me? Hmmm.

 

In God’s Image

Scripture states that God created humanity “in His own image” (Genesis 1:27; see also Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9). But what does this mean?

When I was a freshman at the great institution of conservatism known as the University of Oregon, I thought that maybe the image started as an ape, thinking I could marry creation and evolution. It didn’t take too long to realize this was wrong-headed. But I still had no answer.

Erickson states that “the biblical picture of humanity’s origin is that an all-wise, all-powerful, and good God created the human race to love and serve him, and to enjoy a relationship with him” (Christian Theology, 2013, p. 439). I don’t dispute this, but I’m still unsure about the image of God in humanity.

 

Two Aspects

Anthony Hoekema concludes that God’s image in humanity has two aspects: what humanity is and what humanity does. What humanity is can be called the structural aspect and what humanity does can be called the functional aspect.

The structural aspect relates to “the entire endowment of gifts and capacities that enable man to function as he should in his various relationships and callings” (Created in God’s Image, 1986, pp. 70-71). And the functional aspect is how humanity engages in life, whether that is engagement with other humans, or with the environment or with God. Thus, returning to Hoekema, the functional aspect means humanity’s “proper functioning in harmony with God’s will” (p. 72, emphasis mine). So the structural aspect means we were originally built to function properly and the functional aspect is do we actually choose to function properly. This makes sense to me, but let’s see if I can illustrate this a little differently.

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Servers and Metaphors

Metaphorically, it helps me to think of this like a large building. The building is more than a foundation with concrete and rebar. It has interior rooms with specific functions in mind (e.g., conference rooms, single-person offices, reception area, cafeteria, large areas for cubicles, etc.). It has wiring for all different types of technology, and it has heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment. All of this comprises the structure of the building. Often, the technology is centralized in a “cool room,” or as in my workplace it is called the ‘server room,’ where all wires originate and where many servers are in place and are ready to handle the computing needs of the building’s occupants. Similarly, much of the other physical attributes, central HVAC and plumbing equipment are often housed in an area known as a physical plant or utilities areas. These are all representations of endowments bestowed by God into the structure of the human.

Thus, in the same metaphor, the functional aspect means our building’s operations. Does the HVAC respond properly, or does cool air come on when the controls are set for heat? Does the plumbing work when faucets are turned on or do they leak, spray, or clog up? Is all of the technology working properly or are there computer crashes and power fades? In other words, are the building’s functions operating in harmony with the wishes of the building’s architects or are they malfunctioning?

Herein is the pertinent difference between the structural and functional aspects of God’s image in humanity. When humanity fell into sin as explained in Genesis 3:1-7, humanity still retained the image of God in the structural sense but lost it in the functional sense. Why is this? Because humanity willfully stopped functioning in harmony with God’s will. In a malfunctioning building, the structure itself remains intact, but the inner functionality, the functional aspects of building operations, are in disharmony.

 

Conclusion

So while humanity still retains the image of God, it is tarnished, damaged and in need of rescuing. The reason is because humanity has willingly chosen to depart from the original design of its Architect. But why do we need rescuing and how do we get rescued? And what are we rescued from? Well, those are other posts!

Please stay tuned…

By the way, I’m posting a day early because I’m going on a fishing trip with my youngest and Grandpa!

Original Sin’s Origin

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Sin. The word evokes a myriad of responses in people. You’re probably feeling some emotions right now. Maybe you’re thinking of your sins or thinking that you don’t have sin or are afraid I’m going to get “all-preachy.” Well, I’m not going to wax preachy, even though I have ample experience with sin, because I want to briefly explore the origin of the so-called “original sin.”

 

Origin…where?

Through most of my life, I have heard the phrase original sin as referring to the fall of humanity documented in Genesis 3:1-7. Often times children’s books use this phrase as do some theology books I’ve read. I may be splitting hairs, but Genesis 3 depicts humanity’s first sin, but, to my recent surprise, it is not depicting the original sin.

Maybe you already knew this, but the original sin occurred in Heaven. As Anthony Hoekema states, “sin did not originate in the world of human beings but in the world of spirits” (Created in God’s Image, 1994, p. 122). This understanding never really occurred to me until sometime earlier this year. But it makes sense; how could Satan tempt Adam to sin if he was not already acquainted with it? It’s hard to spring a trap when unfamiliar with it; but once there’s familiarity, setting and springing the trap becomes easier.

 

Citations, please…

So where does the Bible document this original sin? The Book of Isaiah documents the fall of Lucifer in 14:12-21. The name Lucifer means “day star” but he became Satan which means “accuser, adversary”, after his rebellion against God. One interesting aspect in this section of Scripture is Lucifer quoted as saying, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the throne of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation” (v. 13, emphasis mine). While there are other meaty aspects in this section, the emphasis I call out here is on the nature of self-worship, self-aggrandizement; in a word: pride.

Revelation 12:7-12 speaks to Satan, the post-sin name for Lucifer, being thrown out of Heaven by Michael and his angels. Verse 9 says, “the great dragon was cast out, the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world.” This same Satan, the deceiver of the world, is the one that shows up in Genesis 3 deceiving humanity into disobeying God. And he’s still deceiving humanity today.

 

So what…

Having a deeper understanding of the actual origin of sin will help us be more aware of it in our own lives. Whenever we are drawn to elevating ourselves and our desires above God, we are sinning. As I ponder this and look at the wide work of sin in my own life, much of it swirls around that pesky little-g god of “self.”

Even in Genesis 3 we see this because Satan fooled humanity into thinking that it could become like God. How much does this still hold true in our current era? How strong is the temptation of ‘self’ in our own lives?

As we ask these questions with a fuller understanding of the origin of these temptations, we will be better equipped to lean more deeply into God by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit strengthening us to withstand these temptations (see Ephesians 6:10-18). But not recognizing them runs the risk of driving our lives deeper into their deceptive mire and empty promises.

 

Next week…

Next week we’ll look at the image of God in humanity and what part of it was tarnished when humanity fell in the Garden of Eden. In the meantime, feel free to leave me a comment; just please keep them civil and constructive.  Oh, by the way, Genesis 3 says nothing about an apple!

 

What a Ride: Despair and Celebration

Sad_Smile

Yes, 2016 has been an interesting, up and down year. My blog posting has been sporadic at best and my emotions have been stretched from east, to west and back again. But I am returning to a situation in life where I expect to begin posting on a regular basis; and I have a lot of ideas on things to write about. For instance, I want to write about atonement, and about the resurrection, and about Jesus being fully God and fully human, and about sin and whole bunch of other stuff.

But for the moment, I want to respond to a reader that recently asked why I’ve been absent. Well, lots of things have happened in 2016. But it began at the end of 2015.

The Recap

My last post was about the sudden death of a 20 year friend of ours, the oldest son of a wonderful family in Nebraska. Granted, the tragedy affected them more deeply of course, but it still shook us to our cores. Then 2016 began with my mom being rushed to the hospital. Mom, a very dear lady, suffered from advanced dementia and other physical disabilities. She spent much of January in the hospital. This led to her being admitted into hospice care. In the midst of this, my favorite pet ever—BK the cat—suddenly took ill and died. It was weird.

I came home from work on a rainy Thursday night and he ran over to greet me as he usually did. He was a great cat because I could pick him up any old way and he would just purr and head butt me. This particular evening, after his greeting, he all of the sudden lost control of his back legs, began panting furiously and had a wild look in his eye. We wound up at the pet ER where they said he was dying; feline congestive heart failure and his lungs were rapidly filling with fluid. In the process of his agonizing death throes, he bit into my left thumb with such force that I could feel his fangs sinking down into my bone, puncturing everything on the way. Shortly after that, he died. We spent the rest of the evening grieving in the people ER because my thumb was seriously injured. Even today my left thumb is partially disabled with the loss of some motion along with chronic pain and numbness.

About a month later, hospice care left a frantic message on my phone at about 4:30 in the morning; mom had died. No one expected it; sure, we expected she would pass away say in the summer or early fall, but then she suddenly started trending upward. Hospice was thinking she may have to be discharged from their care. But on February 29, she went to bed and at some point thereafter she was ushered into the presence of Jesus. Personally, I think she’s dancing in Heaven!

Then there’s the final semester of grad school. Through all of this and keeping up with my full-time secular job I was also trying to finish grad school on a high note. No easy task when so much of life is being filled with pain and loss. But God brought me and my family through it and last Saturday I was able to walk the platform in commemoration of completion along with about 300 other graduates from Corban University.

But…

So it’s been a challenging year so far. But now I have more “free time” and am looking forward to diving into blogging again (and perhaps more cycling too!). But thanks to God for all his work in my life and in my family, and also a huge thank you to my family and friends, I cannot tell you how much of a blessing you are to me. I can’t describe it because the tears of joy block my view. And thank you, dear reader, for your patience.

My God richly bless you in undeniable ways.