The shadow cast by sin

The book about glory I’m trying to finish starts with an examination of sin (sin and glory come together in Romans 3:23, a verse that has wormed its way into my mind and soul). Meanwhile, a new project–a collaboration with a theology prof–includes sin among the several topics we’ll consider in a collection of essays, reflections, and devotionals. Which means I’m reading and thinking a lot these days about this dark matter.

orig sinAlan Jacobs has a great book on the history of a doctrine–‘original sin’–that’s had a long shelf life. He traces the notion back to Augustine (who sharpened and emphasized an idea already in circulation), and shows how it affects thinking and behavior down through the centuries.

sin historyGary Anderson’s close reading of Hebrew and Aramaic turns up the way an understanding of ‘sin’ shifts over time. He notices that early on, ‘sin’ is a burden to be borne. Later, it is a debt to be paid. That ‘debt’ language went on to affect expectations in large parts of the Church regarding a God-honoring life, and even concepts of atonement.


Sin is tricky: functionally, it’s pervasive, corrosive, oppressive; grammatically, it’s both a noun and a verb; theologically, it’s a problem. Or not. Because, after all, isn’t grace huge–bigger than, more powerful than, more significant than sin?

Sin is also tricky because of how it’s handled popularly (we call out certain actions as sin, turn a blind eye towards others–and the lists on each side can vary). Not only that, but when we see it in Scripture (sin is not just a matter of behaviors and consequences, but also a force, and even a realm), we realize that the word covers a lot of territory. And what about the problems ‘sin’ evokes? Drill down and the questions rise up: where did it come from? what does its presence say about God’s character? and so on.

The therapist says that sin is explainable. The preacher, that sin is dangerous. Julian of Norwich says that sin is necessary.

Me, I’m still digging. While I empathize with Chesterton’s remark about the way sin leads us to an empirically verifiable doctrine, I’m also lined up with Don Henley, glad that forgiveness is in the mix, along with grace. Nudging me along is the sense too often sin looms too large, and that glory deserves even more of our attention.


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