Creative Redemption

This blog seeks to explore themes from the Bible, theology, spiritual formation, creativity, and responses to change and conflict to discover how to promote God's redemptive work in his creation.

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

Why Sin Goes Beyond Rule-Breaking

Sit up straight, eat your vegetables, do your homework, use ten sources for your paper. Don’t smoke, don’t swear, don’t text and drive, don’t plagiarize.

Rules – some people view them as providing reassuring order and stability, and others see them as creating stifling restrictions. In reality, rules play a necessary role in essentially every area of life, but they also possess inherent limitations.

One of the biggest limitations regarding rules derives from their inability to cover adequately any area of significant complexity. For example, a marriage relationship cannot be reduced to a list of rules. A second major limitation relates to the first. An excessive focus on rules can cause them to become an end in themselves, drawing attention away from the bigger picture they were intended to serve. Think of some of Jesus’ charges against the Pharisees, such as tithing herbs to the neglect of weightier matters of the law, or dedicating something to God and thus neglecting to care for their parents.

The Bible contains many rules, of course, and not just in the Old Testament. The most common word for these rules in the Old Testament is torah, normally translated “law,” but more literally meaning “instruction.” Both testaments contain plenty of instruction, most notably due to the perspective found in the following proverb:

There is a way that appears to be right,

  but in the end it leads to death.

            –Proverbs 14:12

Due to this deficiency, the Old Testament praises the law highly, sometimes even effusively (see, for example, Psalm 19; 119; Deuteronomy 1-11). Both Jesus and Paul, despite their legitimate conflicts with the Pharisees over the law, make it clear that the law is good when approached properly.

These general observations about rules serve to introduce an exploration of the meaning and nature of sin in the Bible. The common tendency to reduce sin to the violation of rules can trivialize the biblical notion of sin. In addition, it distorts our understanding of how we combat sin in our lives and in the world.

I plan to explore the more substantive aspects of sin according to the Bible, with a goal of understanding better the roots of the human “problem,” as well as the path by which we draw closer to God’s will for our lives.

Throwing Out the Poor with the Bath Water

The old expression “throwing the baby out with the bath water” refers to getting rid of something good or fundamental in the process of trying to get rid of something bad. Perhaps the saying does not apply perfectly to the plight of the poor at present, but it addresses one significant aspect of it.

On a public policy level, helping the poor, like other important issues, has fallen victim to the partisan divide that makes meaningful dialogue among our political leaders virtually impossible. Liberal policies have proven ineffective in alleviating poverty at best, and counterproductive at worst. Conservative alternatives suggest that improving the overall economy will solve the problem of poverty for anyone willing to work. Such an approach both ignores the truth about who are the major beneficiaries of an improved economy and suffers from a shortsighted view of the nature and causes of poverty.

Difficult economic times make government aid programs inviting targets for cost cutting. While many of these programs contain serious flaws, simply reducing or eliminating them carries devastating consequences for many of our poorer neighbors, at least in the short term. The many Christians who support such cost cutting must not take the consequent impact on the poor lightly.

One could certainly argue that any attempt to alleviate poverty through government programs will inevitably come up short for a variety of reasons. The magnitude of the problem in a country like the U.S., however, not to mention the worldwide situation, requires the mobilization of vast resources. At least at present, government involvement in assisting the poor remains vital, even with its shortcomings.

To throw out the poor with the bath water of flawed public policies will surely not escape the notice of the God who promises to hear the cries of the poor. Christians who try to hide behind the abuses of those who play the system because “those who don’t work shouldn’t eat” need to remember at least two things. First, “the system” bears a great deal of responsibility for the current problem. Second, attempts to toss out the cheaters will literally toss out babies and children as well.

In the longer term, my hope is that the church will build on growing insights into healthier ways to help the poor and model a better way forward. I personally have little confidence in government’s ability to do more than minimize some of the consequences of poverty. Churches and Christian organizations have frequently done little better in addressing the root causes of poverty. Increasingly, however, this situation is changing. A tremendous opportunity thus exists for the church to bear witness to the kind of redemption God intends as it walks alongside its poorer neighbors day after day and year after year.

In the meantime, we may have little choice but to: 1)Advocate for the best of the flawed government policy options for the poor; and 2)Step up efforts to address the deeper issues of poverty and combat the counterproductive effects of shortsighted programs.

 

 

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