Monday, August 11, 2008

Thoughts on sin and confession

Caffeine and racing thoughts have conspired to bring prayer and blog together. I have been thinking tonight about the concepts of sin and confession, and what they mean to various faith communities and more individualistic Quakers. It is a frustrating endeavor to overcome the terrible moral overkill that fundamentalists or evangelical religionists have placed upon the shoulders of the concept of sin, and it's equally frustrating to speak of such a concept as "sin as estrangement" with Quakers who fail to agree to that something is perhaps very wrong with humanity and "being." Craig, is sin an ontological problem?

As for myself, I find that I am "guilty" of sin, and that I must confess as much if reconciliation is a concept that has any integrity when I am to speak of it. It's not that I believe that I am morally corrupted beyond "worthiness." I do confess, however, that my shrillness tends to be self-serving, and that self-absorption is a major obstacle between myself and wholeness. I believe such self-absorption to be evidence of sin.

Yet, there is blessing in sin. There is blessing because it is evidence of freedom. If the story of the Garden has any meaning for me, it is not that humanity was doomed by a vicious deity because of desire, but that humanity has the joy of choosing relationship with the creator, and with each other. We are not designed as boosts to the cosmic ego, but as free agents who are capable of experiencing love for one another and for God freely. Without the concept of sin, we are stuck in Tillich's state of "dreaming innocence," a state that is not only free from temptation, but from the freedom to experience real relationship. A state of dreaming innocence is a state lacking wholeness, because there is lacking the polarities that give meaning to existence. (And no, I am not a Tillich fan.)

For relationship to happen, I need to confess that I am potentially at odds with an other's concept of wholeness, and that I am perhaps a candidate for reconciliation. This is an integral aspect of freedom. To be a free moral agent is to accept that I am potentially estranged from another agent, and to be in relationship with my neighbor and to love my enemy, I must confess my complicity in such estrangement. Wholeness is not an individual state of being, but a corporate state that witnesses to the importance of relationships as the foundation of human meaning and being.


Yvonne said...

The Greek word for sinner, amartolon, appears to mean "one who misses the mark" (as in, "We have all fallen short of the glory of God"). I wonder if it is connected to the word martyr, which literally means witness (so a sinner would then be one who has failed to witness). So this usage implies one who has omitted something, rather than committed something. Also the Orthodox do not believe in original sin in the Augustinian sense.

To a Pagan, people are finite and therefore cannot by our nature share the divine perspective which is infinite; but the Divine needs our finite and local perspective. Of course people do horrible things, because they are out of balance or out of harmony with the Divine. But I wouldn't apply the label "sin" to that, because the underlying theology is different.

R. Scot Miller said...

Hi Yvonne, thank you for responding. I believe that translations of hamartia reveal a lot about one's concept of sin. I have heard about the "missing the mark" meaning attributed to the word, but if it indeed was an archery term, that was a minor usage. According to my Greek class, and Bauer's lexicon. the term overwhelmingly refers to a violation of some deity's or cult's moral standard. The range of meanings is immense, as hamartia can imply a minor transgression has occurred, or, one has committed an involuntary mistake, as well as a persobnal display of immense moral default. I think the key to interpretation is not how classical Greek authors used teh term, but how the Apostle Paul used it. Paul had an unkindly view toward behavior that varied from his own standard of morality, so I believe he viewed sin as a serious offense against the deity in general, regardless of its intent or assumed severity. However, the apostle doth not speaketh for all, including me most of the time. but I wouldn't attribute archery terminology to his meaning when discussing sin. Read Romans 3.
Interestingly, hamarturos means without witness. I don't know if this is a connection you were looking for.