Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A few thoughts on the apparent contradictions of sinfulness

It is written, “The Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps merciful covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, to a thousand generations, requites to their face those who hate Him, by destroying them; He will not be slack with him who hates Him, He will requite him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandments, the statutes and ordinances, which I command you this day.” (Deut 7.9-11)

And yet, we also find, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 24.6-7)

The apparent contradiction is between God requiting the sinner himself “to his face” (other translations see immediacy implied in this passage), and in the “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” Which is it? And how is it that the righteousness of a man results in God being merciful and showing steadfast love “to a thousand generations”? And what of the Prophet Ezekiel who said, “The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself”? (Ez 18.20)

The answer is clear when we think of the effects of sin. Often in this age, we hear people comment that some sins are not truly evil because committing them “doesn’t hurt anyone.” The rhetorical question is often brandished “where’s the harm in it”? But in fact, the effects of sin are deadly. We see this first and foremost in original sin.

The Apostle speaks precisely when he states, “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” (Rom 5.12) The effect of original sin is death. In committing that first (original) sin, that which was created immortal became mortal, the pristine image of God was besmirched, and the body, like the sullied soul, began its descent into corruption and decay. This legacy affects us all to this day. Equally harmful, corruption is at work in the universe, the decadent dissolution into cold emptiness of the universe is more than a metaphor of the emptiness of a soul separated from God.

Returning to actual sin, it is clear that every sin has effects that go beyond the mere committing of the sin itself. Like a ripple on a still pond, the effects of sin radiate out in ways that are to some extent almost invisible to the human eye; while in other ways the effect is all too visible. This has practical import for any morality we can conceive. At once, we understand the old adage that “good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people.” It is not that God is actually ‘testing’ the good nor teasing the wicked; rather, the effects of sin rippling through the ethical universe cause the good to suffer in a world as diseased as a potters field. In a similar way, the wicked, being – shall we say? – attuned to the discordant cacophony of sinfulness droning through our existence, often benefit from sin through means that the ear of human conscience cannot clearly fathom.

And so, the sinner often seems to ‘get away’ with his sinful actions. And yet, this is not so. For the lord does requite him to his face. As with original sin, the actual sin committed by the wicked redounds to him in a spiritual death, the agony of which he may not clearly perceive. Sin separates the wicked from God, like the universe flying way from itself in silent frigid emptiness. We see from this that no amount of earthly reward can truly benefit the sinner, for the satisfaction that he seeks, and prima facie sometimes achieves, is ultimately hollow, sterile and wanton.

And yet, because no sin is ultimately private, the effects of this fruitless addiction to that which can never bring life and joy, ripple through the universe. And for the man who lives sinfully, his children are indeed affected by his wickedness; learning immoral lessons and being taught to sojourn in a wilderness of unfulfilling passion. Thus we see the sins of the father visited upon their children.

Consequently, we also see an added hope and incentive to our choice of morally charitable and Christian ends. The effects of righteous actions not only redound to our benefit but to that of the world also. The moral example we set for our children helps form them ethically and spiritually. And the effects of our moral choices have positive impact on the world.

Indeed, it has been noted, how much worse off the world would be were it not for the prayers of repentant sinners and saints! Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The first entry was a bit rambling [no pun] but your second and third entries were very thoughtful. Have you given up?