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Love and Sin

2009 January 4
by Julie Clawson

I grew up having the doctrine of original sin hammered into me.  People are sinful – rotten to the core from conception.  As a result, I always assumed the worst of people.  Sin was a person’s defining character trait.  And above all else they needed redemption – at whatever cost.  So in interacting with people one focused on their depravity – seeing how they were sinful and even making sure they knew that as well.

The problem with that stance is that it makes it really hard to love one’s neighbor.  And I mean really love them – not some silly “tough love” line about loving them too much to allow them to continue in sin.  But loving them even amidst the mess.  So in this mindset, when it was brought up that we should care for the poor who lost their homes in Katrina we were told that some of them are poor because of their sin.  Or when its suggested that illegal immigrants should be treated with dignity and respect, some horrendous anecdote about a criminal act committed by an immigrant is mentioned.  Or when its suggested that the homeless get fed, they are written off as undeserving addicts and alcoholics.  The idea seems to be that if some sort of sin can be pinned on a person that gets us off the hook for having to love them.

But it can be dangerous to fall out of the habit to love.  When we chose not to “in humility consider others better than ourselves” but instead dwell wholly on their faults we end up resorting to doing most things out of “selfish ambition and vain conceit.”  Our needs reign supreme when we readily find excuses not to love others.  Loving our neighbor then becomes a foreign concept.

Perhaps I’ve been too long in the emerging church world where loving others is just a given.  Or perhaps spending the holidays with my family who thinks I’m an idealistic freak was a wake-up call.  But it still shocks me when I encounter people who are genuinely confused as to why caring for the needs of others would be a motivating factor for doing anything.  I want to believe love wins, but then I encounter so many people who can’t even fathom the concept.  It’s just difficult when even the basic aspects of the faith can’t even be agreed upon.

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14 Responses leave one →
  1. January 4, 2009

    Julie, good post. When I consider your thoughts about the sinfulness of others and many “christian” responses to that sinfulness, I see the spirituality of Karma at work. What people often think is a christian response or posture to “sinners” is really embracing the idea that they made their own bed, they deserve their outcome and therefore shouldn’t be helped. It is quite disturbing and anti christian. Again, good post, I just started following you on RSS

  2. January 4, 2009

    There’s discouragement in this post. Family are the hardest neighbors to love.

    I remember a sermon by Tom Long — he spoke of people who’ve ‘whittled their agenda down to a sharp stick, and they’re always poking you with it.’ I don’t know why your post made me think of this memory… maybe things that seem as natural as breathing to you come across to others like they’re being poked with a sharp stick.

    Peace to you today, and in the new year.

  3. January 4, 2009

    I too have had “original Sin” hammered into me. So much so that it is hard to discuss sin without having to first discuss the origin and/or transmission of sin. I feel that it is a constant battle to help resolve others into new ways of thinking about what we call sin and perhaps a more biblical, less baggage way to approach the topic.

    Anyway, it is interesting you bring this up. Brittian over at Sensual Jesus posted the link to this thought-provoking article today. I may not agree completely with it, but I think it is a start into helping others to think differently about the doctrine of original sin.
    http://silouanthompson.net/2008/12/22/ancestral-versus-original-sin/

    I have found that helping others see that there are at least options to the previously solid doctrines goes a long way in discussing new ways to perceive God, humanity, and Love.

    thanks for your thoughts. I read often (here and other blogs you have commented on), and am always grateful for your insightfulness!

  4. Scott M permalink
    January 4, 2009

    Finally falling into Christianity from a raft of pluralist options, I suppose I had the advantage of never having the Western doctrine of “original sin” pounded into me. And as such, I never believed it for a moment. It’s so obviously full of holes and further paints a picture of a God I wouldn’t care to worship.

    It was, however, a huge relief for me to finally discover several years ago that the idea of inherited guilt was not the normative Christian perspective, that it was in fact a pretty late developing Western idea largely influenced by Plato and similar philosophers. I didn’t come to believe the Orthodox perspective. I found in it what I had always believed.

  5. January 5, 2009

    Great words Julie.. it IS quite dangerous to fall out of the habit of love, but we see it everyday, don’t we? I just stumbled across your blog, I look forward to following what you have to say! Grace and peace, Wesley

  6. January 5, 2009

    I’ve found this in my own life too, where I concentrate on my own sinful nature and how I can “get rid” of sin in my life.

    More recently, instead of walking away from sin, I am trying instead to walk towards love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Thanks for sharing this post.

  7. January 5, 2009

    Thanks Julie, it is so hard for us to see the good in others; that God’s image has not been erased from them.

    Perhaps it is because we want to find a way around the commandment to love our neighbour?

  8. January 5, 2009

    “The idea seems to be that if some sort of sin can be pinned on a person that gets us off the hook for having to love them.”

    Very well-said.

  9. Karl permalink
    January 5, 2009

    The post seems to imply that it is necessary to give up the doctrine of original sin in order to be able to love others like Jesus did. Or that not loving others well and unconditionally is a natural and necessary result of belief in original sin.

    That seems to be countered by a significant weight of historical evidence of Christians, Catholic and protestant, who both believed in original sin, and who also showed love to all unconditionally. Not all or even most Christians by any stretch. But enough to make me question a suggestion that belief in original sin is where the problem really lies.

  10. January 5, 2009

    I didn’t get the feeling that this passage was calling for the eradication of the notion of original sin, but rather a reorienting of Christian love. We are all broken and sinful from birth – I think that most of us here would see that as a given.

    But when we let the reality of human sinfulness provide us an excuse to keep from loving someone, when we view Christian love as a way to speak judgment against others (instead of speaking hope), when we think about Christian love toward others ONLY in terms of “saving sinners,” then we have missed the mark. We are called to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us. Doesn’t it follow that we are also then called to love one another fully in spite of our sin/sins?

    Or perhaps, put a better way, aren’t we called to love one another because God loves us, not because we expect anything or have any agenda. God loves us (so much that God sent Jesus to die for us!); therefore we should love others. It’s about as simple as that.

    1 Corinthians has something to say about all this: “4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

    I think the connection to original sin here is that when we are conditioned to think about people first according to their sins, and only then according to their identity as a child of God, we don’t end up doing a good job of loving. It’s not a matter of giving up on the doctrine of original sin, but rather a reminder that in our everyday interactions with people, we would do well to see each other first as children of God and then as broken, and not the other way around.

  11. Karl permalink
    January 6, 2009

    Well said Melissa. That I can support; maybe I read something into the post that wasn’t there.

  12. January 8, 2009

    What you say here really resonates with me. We have scripture that teaches us how much God loved the world – and I think that we’re here to do the same, to give our own lives, to dedicate them to the larger world in our own ways as well as we can.

    But somehow Christianity seemed to become more about “getting saved” – a kind of personal reward/punishment system we sign onto. You worship the Christ to get a good place at the table.

    I don’t care about my place at the table; I care about the future of my species. I wish more people, especially in leadership positions both secular and religious, felt the same.

  13. January 8, 2009

    thanks for the great comments. i’ve been disconnected for the past few days, so sorry to not interact. to address a couple issues –

    I don’t think we have to get rid of the idea of original sin. I agree with Melissa that often what is needed is just a different way of looking at people. At the same time though some of the more extreme version of original sin make that impossible. I would be wary of conceptions that portray people as first and foremost sinful. That is not how we were created in the image of God. We are all broken and in need of healing, but that makes sin more of a corruption or rift than the basis of our identity.

  14. January 21, 2009

    I just discovered your blog. It’s really interesting!

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