by Young Oon Kim
Diverse Interpretations Of Sin
To understand the Christian doctrine of sin it is important to look at its historical development. Three classical definitions of sin were produced in the Judeo-Christian tradition. First, sin was interpreted as a conscious violation of the revealed laws of God. Men sin when they disobey the commandments of God given to Moses or the new Law proclaimed by Jesus. Secondly, sinfulness has been explained by Paul and Augustine as man's common fallen nature. We sin because we are the concupiscent children of rebellious Adam and Eve. Thirdly, during the Reformation sin was redefined as a gate of unfaith in as we lack trust in God.
The fundamental differences between these three doctrines of sin can be clearly seen when we look at them in terms of their opposites. If sin is disobedience to divine laws, its opposite is righteousness. If sin refers to man's fallen nature, this is contrasted with man's original nature and his redeemed nature. Or if sin means infidelity, then its reverse is faith in God and loyalty to Him.
Beginning with the Renaissance, these classical Christian doctrines of man's sinful nature have been challenged. The Renaissance affirmed man's dignity, moral power and natural beauty. This optimistic view of human nature was deepened and popularized during the 'Enlightenment. The 18th century Age of Reason believed in the natural goodness of man, the sovereign power of human reason and the ability to create a moral social order on the basis of scientific principles.
The Enlightenment therefore undermined the traditional Christian understanding of man's sinfulness:
1) Man is not a fallen creature but a reasonable and moral being who can improve himself and his society.
2) God produced the universe according to His wisdom. As His natural laws govern the movement of the planets, His moral laws are, sufficient.
3) There is no value in the church's teaching about original sin, total depravity and fallen nature because these notions are based upon ancient Hebrew legends about Adam and Eve.
4) Furthermore, to believe in man's innate evil and inherited corruption contradicts our moral sense. If we are totally depraved, we cannot be held responsible for our actions. If we are sinful by nature, our specific sins are merely inevitable results of our fallen condition.
Biologists and archeologists find no evidence that the original human beings lived in a state of Paradisical innocence and bliss from which they fell. For many modern men, the doctrines of original sin, inherited guilt and total depravity are impossible to believe because they seem both unreasonable and immoral:
1) If we are liable to punishment for inherited guilt, God is unjust. We are only responsible for our own acts. We cannot be blamed for our ancestors' mistakes.
2) Traditional doctrines of sin conflict with man's innate sense of personal responsibility.
3) They give an unduly pessimistic picture of human nature. We are not totally depraved, because we have many good points as well as sinful inclinations.
4) If God gives us moral commandments, He has also endowed us with the ability to live righteously. God Himself would be unjust to require of us what He knows we cannot fulfill.
Challenged by Renaissance optimism and Enlightenment rationalism, Christian thinkers felt compelled to work out alternatives to the Augustinian-Calvinist doctrine of sin. One alternative is based on the evolutionary interpretation of man. Why do we sin? Because men have not yet outgrown their inherited animal characteristics. Our moral failures are vestiges from our animal past. We are only gradually becoming truly human. Professor E. R. Tennant was one of many who advocated this Darwinian reinterpretation of sin. 1
A second view was worked out by sociologists and social reformers. We sin because of the sinful structure and conditions of society. Albrecht Ritschl, for example, stated that there is a well-organized kingdom of evil which is opposed to man's dreams of the ideal kingdom of God. To quote a phrase from Reinhold Niebuhr, we are "moral men in an immoral society." Or as Walter Rauschenbusch taught, institutions of all kinds -- political, economic, racial, cultural and religious-can cause individuals to sin, encourage them to continue sinning and even blind them to the fact that they are sinners. This view has had many advocates: the liberal Protestant -exponents of the Social Gospel, Christian Socialists, Christian Marxists, theologians of hope and liberationist theologians.
A third alternative was based upon the new science of psychoanalysis. According to Freud, we suffer all sorts of personal and collective disorders because we repress our instinctive decisions. We become emotionally maladjusted and socially destructive when we suppress natural biological urges rather than find constructive ways to express them. What is the sin-sick soul but the unhealthy neurotic personality of our time? The psychiatrist therefore removes irrational guilt feelings by pointing out their subconscious roots, dispelling socially conditioned neuroses, and teaching men to accept a more permissive social ethic.
A fourth view of man's fallen condition is proposed by the existentialist philosophers, beginning with Kierkegaard. Why do we sin? Because of man's deep-seated anxiety. Our moral lapses originate from a terrible ontological dread and anguish.
God gives us freedom yet He commands us to obey Him. This demand fills us with dread. If we obey God, we fear we will lose our freedom. And if we refuse, we feel guilty. Consequently, we are frightened. We feel as if we are suspended over the void.
Everyone is his own Adam. We are afraid to give up our liberty and so we try to defy God. In the name of freedom we attempt to put ourselves in His place. Anxious to stay free, we rebel against God and inevitably fall.
We sin because we are doomed to be free. Out of despair and defiance we estrange ourselves from God and one another. Man is at war with himself and everybody else. Consequently we fall prey to loneliness and isolation. Alienated from God, man becomes both loveless and truly lost. This, say the existentialists, is the fallen state of every man.
This brief account reveals how confused contemporary men are about their own condition. Christians disagree about the meaning of sin, its origin, and extent. Many confess that sin has become an insoluble mystery. We are no longer clear about how sin began, how deeply it corrupts human nature or how it can be cured.
Unification theology claims to cast fresh light on the sinful state of all men. We believe to have been given a reasonable explanation of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Divine Principle suggests a new view of the primal sin and points to the way men can be restored to their original communion with the Creator. Thus, Unification theology reveals the reason for man's existential estrangement and its remedy.
1 F. R. Tennant -- an early 20th century Anglican theologian at the University of Cambridge.
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