N.T. Wright on sin

Discussion in 'Christianity' started by Thomas, Dec 16, 2019.

  1. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    I have long been a fan of N.T. Wright's ideas about Paul, although I have only dipped lightly into his works.

    The latest dip is N.T. Wright's idea of sin ... it seems to me to go something like this:

    The traditional view is that sin is the wilful rejection of God, from the moment Adam and Eve chose to ignore God's instruction not to eat the fruit, on. It's presented as a moral problem.

    A common critique then is God is presented as an unforgiving father-figure whom we have offended, and who has taken offence and is punishing us for that offence. It's all rather personal.

    Modernity seeks to soften this view: we were young. How can we be blamed for what we did not know? That for what is essentially a 'shortcoming' or 'mistake' we are subject to an eternal punishment.

    Both arguments are, in Wright's mind, rather naive:
    The normal Greek word for ‘sin’ namely hamartia, means ‘missing the mark’: shooting at a target and failing to hit it. This is subtly but importantly different from being given a long and fussy list of things you must and mustn’t do and failing to observe them all.

    He expounds his theory:
    ... humans were created for a purpose, and Israel was called for a purpose, and the purpose was not simply 'to keep the rules, 'to be with God', or 'to go to heaven' ... Humans were made to be 'image-bearers'...
    As such we were created and called to be intermediaries between God and creation, between the Infinite and the finite, the Transcendent and the contingent, the Absolute and the relative. As humans we are 'open' to the other in a way that the rest of nature is not.

    This intermediation is the true nature of 'priesthood'.

    The idea is of heaven here and now. Scripture says seek within, and really the injunction is then make the outside like the inside.

    But we continue to subjectify and personalise. So we seek within for our own personal good. As the meme has it, we want to find ourselves, and continue along the same erroneous and ultimately fatal path.

    It's not about us. It never was.

    Wright defines sin as a failure to live up to our birthright. If sin is 'missing the mark', our sin is not just about falling short of God or God's commandments, etc. It's about falling short of our own inherent natures.

    A falling short of being authentically human.

    Wright says:
    When humans sin, they hand to non-divine forces a power and authority that those forces were never supposed to have.

    This doesn’t dilute or soften the traditional idea of sin. Rather, it shows how sin is more consequentially damaging because not only do we sever the link with God, but we do so by placing an idol in place of God. We put selfish self-serving self-interest first. This idolatry can be named many things: money, fame, power, etc.,

    Contemplated this way the symbolism of the Garden takes on a different meaning. Suffice to say relegate the serpent to a psychological drama, a dialogue in the head. But see the fruit for what it is — something natural, with all the allure of nature, something by which we traded participation for possession, and in so doing, lost everything.

    So sin is all about defying God's will and earning His wrath and failing to do what we're told and breaking the rules and being punished and blah, blah, blah ... it's about something more and something more important.

    We betrayed ourselves. We sold ourselves short.

    +++

    Still exploring, but there's some really interesting ideas there.
     
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  2. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    Uh-oh, you are singing my tune again...
     
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  3. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    I thought you didn't believe in sin?
     
  4. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    Having said that, I think Wil and I are in broad agreement about 'heaven'.

    I am more inclined to Wright's idea that the point of Christian life is not to flee the world to some other, paradisical place, as believed the Middle and Later Platonists, perhaps misinterpreting Plotinus' "The flight of the alone to the Alone"

    Too often the idea of Christianity is seen in what is more akin to a gnostic sense, that we live this world, this corporeality, and go somewhere else. That's not it at all.

    Rather, Wright sees an Hellenic confusion about the Hebrew ideas, and especially about Christ's idea, a misunderstanding of two of my favourite texts.

    One is Paul's "and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption; and this mortal must put on immortality. And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Corinthians 15:33-34) and "We know, that, when he shall appear, we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2)

    The point of Christianity is Resurrection. The world made anew, 'in a twinkling', when once more nature will be rendered immortal and incorruptible.
     
  5. RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet God Feeds the Ravens

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    Isn't this a bit like someone blaming themselves for getting cancer? They could have lived better, eaten better, whatever?

    As natural animal creatures we are subject to the constraints and corruption of nature. Original sin. To live we must eat, and every breath of air or drink of water causes the death of tiny unseen creatures.

    It is like a membrane. As natural beings we cannot be fully spiritual. We cannot blame ourselves for what we cannot be. Our eyes see only so much; our natural senses are limited. That's not our own fault?

    We are human beings, not angels.

    But I can look upward and want to be more. To feel better. I can ask 'God' to guide me. I can throw myself down before a power so much greater than myself and ask God to help me and uplift me?

    Something like that?
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2019
  6. RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet God Feeds the Ravens

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    Why should God help me or consider me? What right do I have even to ask? Who am I? But still I do.

    I do because I must, since I came to understand that there is nothing to be found in this world, except the small everyday miracles that tell me God DOES care and IS listening.
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2019
  7. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    That contemplation is what we refer to as metaphysical malpractice. It is all about the lens you look through like through
     
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  8. RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet God Feeds the Ravens

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    I have a relative with cancer who does exactly that. She is unhappy that she cannot cure herself. It's bad enough without blaming herself. It can and does happen to anyone. But she cannot turn to God.

    So it's taking too much personal responsibility. "I can fix it myself"?

    EDIT
    Don't worry, I would not say anything about God to her. There's a time and a place
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2019
  9. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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  10. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    Look neither high nor low, we are in the midst!

    There are thirty kids sitting on hard wooden seats for 45.minutes listening to a teacher pontificate on music theory, catechism, Shakespeare, or.organic.chemistry...

    It.doesn't matter the school, the chairs, the teacher or the topic. Some of the kids are in heaven, others hell, others purgatory...what matters is their perspective, attitude,.choices.

    RJ I feel for your kin and all who suffer. As I lay here healing.and groaning after my second open heart I have the full knowledge that they may be cutting my sternum.and spreading my ribs again. If my trials have taught me anything, it is how much I now honor, respect and empathize with all those that suffer more than me. And totally feel for those that don't have my perspective of life, my attitude regarding the difference between what is happening to me and what is happening for me. For those that.don't have the ridiculously awesome and undeserved support I have from various friends, family and associates. My tribes are many in number and variety... I truly blessed by the paths I've taken, the people I've encountered, the troubles I've had...

    I feel for your kin, and know that I do not have answers for others, I only act as the observer of life for me.

    I absolutely hope they find solace and peace in their way and time.
     
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  11. RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet God Feeds the Ravens

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    Yes wil, thank you.
     
  12. AlanT

    AlanT New Member

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    "Isn't this a bit like someone blaming themselves for getting cancer? They could have lived better, eaten better, whatever?"
    ...or god could have decided not to create cancer and saved a lot of people a lot of pain.
     
  13. RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet God Feeds the Ravens

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    I like this. It's a brilliant observation
     
  14. RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet God Feeds the Ravens

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    Am I a little angry with this god I don't believe in?
     
  15. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    I think the anger is often part of the reason folks don't believe...
     
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  16. Cino

    Cino Big Love! (Atheist mystic)

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    What's the difference between "participating in knowledge" and "possessing knowledge" (of good and evil, in the case if the fruit)?

    I think it is deliciously paradoxical wrt your point that in this story, prior to eating of the fruit, they had knowledge (the commandment) but afterwards, they had participated in what the knowledge was all about. They had experience.

    I know that's not what you set out to say, but thanks for the contemplation.
     
  17. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    I honestly don't think so.

    Wright makes a number of points. One of them, a common view we see here, is the idea of God as uptight, vengeful, make one wrong move and you're done for kinda guy. The idea that Adam sinned, so someone's gonna suffer. That's He's a fire-and-brimstone kinda guy. That we made one little mistake, not our fault, how were we to know, we were young, etc., and have been suffering for it ever since (How anyone gets that from the text???)

    Wright says we're made in God's image. We are not Gods, but we are called to a priesthood. To match our will to Hs will, and God is Love, ergo ...

    Genesis sets man up as God's gardener, and Christ repeated the idea in the vineyard parables. We're God's local area representative. The Cosmos is a theophany, and when we pray, we enter into a particular kind of dialogue with the Divine.

    Sin, for Wright, is when we direct our focus of attention and prayer away from God towards something else. Towards our own, half-perceived provisional goods away from the Greater Good. Pride, it seems to me. Currently I'm contemplating the allure of the fruit of the tree in the midst. The idea of that superficial, outward attraction that captivated us.

    So God never really turned away from us. We turned from Him. He is not punishing us, we have corrupted our own natures.

    Yes. And Wright's point is that the Cross 'heals' that corruption of Original Sin. Humanity is restored to its prelapsarian state. It's not really new or radical, Irenaeus, the father of salvation theology, spoke of the restoration — Christ as the New Adam (from St Paul) — Christ put right what had gone wrong by taking all that wrong upon Himself and transcending it.

    But the point is our place is not in some numinous sitting-on-the-clouds, its here. The idea was that we would nurture paradise in the here and now.

    Precisely! Our fault is that, through pride, we over-reached ourselves. We are not meant to be fully spiritual. We are meant to be as we are, human, but human without sin. Spiritual beings are spiritual beings. We are corporeal beings. That does not mean that we're deficient, that we're less-than-perfect because we're not entirely spiritual. Paul got this: "Know you not that we shall judge angels?" (1 Corinthians 6:3).

    This thread is not unknown, but two things happened. One, we lost our Hebrew sensibility as the Hellenic philosophical discourse began to imprint itself on the development of our theological insight. I am by inclination a Christian Platonist, but I do see that with this emphasis on heaven/hell, body/spirit, etc., we introduced a false duality into our thinking. And too often we assumed the Hellenic idea of Heaven — essentially some kind of Olympus — rather than the Hebrew idea, which is a lot more organic and less distinct.

    Quite. There are no human beings in heaven, only angels. Heaven is not the place for human beings. Human beings are the union of spirit and matter. Our place, and our heaven is here. God saw what he had made, and saw it was Good, as Genesis says of the Creation.
     
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  18. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    Quite. We are not here yet, of course. We are labourers in the vineyard, we live in hope.

    OK, but that's a subjective interpretation using a certain set of terms, isn't it? They are not actually in any of those places, it's just a description. Actual heaven and hell, purgatory and paradise are transient eschatalogical conditions.

    Some of those kids are angels, some are demons ... see? They're neither, they're just kids, and nor do they define what an angel or a demon is.

    I know a guy who took his wife to watch a twelve hour sportscar race. It rained incessantly. Pedro Rodriguez driving a Porsche 917 broke the dry-weather lap record. For the guy, it was the world's best sportscar driving giving a demonstration of driving a 200mph car flat out in pouring rain. He was in heaven. Her experience, cold, wet, hungry, tired, bored, was something else. They divorced not long after ...

    The thing is, in the absence of the real thing, it's all subjective.
     
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  19. RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet God Feeds the Ravens

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    Oh yes. I'm fully in tune with that. The only thing I'm dubious about is the pride. I would say more like ignorance? To try to let God take over completely is something that has to be learned? Often by loss? Someone once said it to me and it has stuck.

    I like the idea of the tree as material allure. That will stick with me too.
     
  20. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    I think that's a really good question!

    The distinction is between the knowledge of which Scripture speaks, and knowledge in the material sense of amassing data about something.

    Participation in knowledge is about being in it, being in the flow, as it were, without knowing ... just being.

    Yes, but that experience is the loss of actual participation.

    The possession of knowledge, the knowledge as spoken of in Scripture, is actually the experience of what we have lost. We're no longer in the flow, and we've lost sight of what it was to be in the flow, but we know it by the sense of loss.

    One might say, waxing lyrical, it's the same with innocence. Unless we're really jaded, we marvel at innocence, and yet when we lose our innocence, we cannot get it back. It's a genie out of the bottle situation.

    Or I'd rather be in love and not know it, than know about love but not be in it. What I know is the feeling of not being in love, that's what my knowing is shaped by.

    Does that make sense?

    Treating Genesis not 'simply' as mythology, but rather, like the Greek myths, as a profound commentary on the human condition. An over-arching religiosity, for sure, but nevertheless.
     

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