Thursday, December 3, 2015

There’s sin, and then there’s sin: Child sacrifice, terrorism, baby body parts, mass killings & blaming God

Just over 30 years ago -- thirty years! -- I helped Rev. John O. Anderson write his book, Cry of the Innocents.

The book, sadly now out of print, compared modern-day abortion in the U.S. to the sin of child sacrifice, especially as characterized in the Old Testament. The second chapter of the book offered a graphic and horrifying reenactment of what it might have been like for a mother to toss her baby into the fiery arms of Molech.

The twisted point of the killing of an innocent child was to “ensure financial prosperity for the family and future children.” Sacrificing the child was believed to bring eventual prosperity and happiness.

In his book, Anderson likened this to many who get abortions because their pregnancies are viewed as inconveniences to personal, professional, societal, and monetary goals. Sacrificing the child now supposedly will help ensure a better tomorrow.

The similarities, when faced honestly, are chilling.

And yet, even though pro-life groups have steadily, rationally, faithfully worked to challenge abortion “rights” at least a million babies a year are killed in the U.S.

Murder begets murder

The good news is that the rate of abortion is dropping. But slowly and only slightly. The bad news is the rhetoric around abortion is heating up.

This heat-up is being fueled by the shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs the day after Thanksgiving.

So much for a happy holiday.

The man behind the shootings, Robert Dear, was alleged to mumble something about “no more baby parts” after surrendering to authorities. In the days since Dear has been characterized as Christian, loner, lunatic, philanderer, abusive, premeditated murderer, and more.

Even though, as far as I’m aware, Dear himself has not stated his motives, it’s being claimed by many that he was provoked to commit murder solely due to rhetoric and videos surrounding the distribution of aborted baby body parts by Planned Parenthood.

Dear’s actions are -- without equivocation -- deplorable.

However, so is some of the rhetoric. Let’s clear up a few inaccuracies:
  • Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right. A big deal is being made about how one act (aborted baby body parts distribution) is legal, and the other act (attacking the facility and killing people) is a crime. As so many have already pointed out, once upon a time in our country, blocking women from voting and owning slaves were both legal. Legal does not equate with right.
  • Just because the shooter claimed to be Christian doesn’t make it so. Anyone who has a genuine understanding of the Christian faith, if they are being honest, will recognize that what Dear did was not at all a Christian act. A New York Times article provides a glimpse into his history which makes it clear that “Christian” was a label Dear claimed but was clearly not a sincere faith he lived. Just as because someone runs for President doesn’t make them Presidential, neither does merely labeling someone Christian make them a Christian.
  • Just because the videos were edited doesn’t make them pointless. The videos being referenced were released over the summer and captured Planned Parenthood personnel discussing the distribution of aborted baby body parts. Abortion supporters have, in almost one voice, declared the videos irrelevant because they were allegedly “heavily edited.” The problem here is that, even edited, the videos reveal extremely troubling practices. Legal or not, the distribution of aborted baby body parts is as deplorable as Dear’s actions. Editing does not automatically deny relevance.

I am not a supporter or defender of Dear’s actions. Quite the contrary.

Nor am I a supporter of the distribution of aborted baby body parts, whether by Planned Parenthood or any other organization.

Both are evil. But both are immoral.

Any individual who is unable to comprehend that BOTH the distribution of aborted baby body parts AND violently attacking an abortion-providing facility and killing people, are EQUALLY reprehensible, in my opinion, is morally deficient, ethically challenged, and spiritually lacking.

Sadly, only one of these scenarios is a crime. For now.

But both are results of sin.

Sin & sin again

Let’s change up our focus for a minute. Did you know there are two “types” of sin?

When sin is mentioned, usually it’s related to something someone has done, said, or thought. It’s based on an action. And, yes, thinking is an action of sorts.

But there’s another kind of sin that’s seldom talked about at any length these days: original sin.

When you hear pastors and theologians reference “the Fall,” they’re pointing toward original sin, also referred to as the “sin nature,” or even the “sin in our skin.”

That both these types of sin are labeled as “sin” can get a little confusing.

To keep things simple -- very, very simple and basic -- there is the sin we do and the sin that is.

The sin that is effects everyone and everything in totality and is the undercurrent that drives the sin we do.

Let’s label them original sin (our sin nature that resulted in the Fall, sin that is) and originated sin (the sins we commit as a result of our sin nature, sin we do).

All fall down - original sin

The sin that is – original sin – entered into the world in the beginning. The Fall happened at the moment Eve and Adam bit into the forbidden fruit in direct disobedience to God, their and our Creator.

Most people are familiar with the story of how Satan, the original Sinner, took on the form of a serpent and seduced the original couple into disobedience. You can read all about it in Genesis 3.

In that instant, all of creation was changed – it “fell” from grace.

While God’s creation was good and is good, a major shift in the way things work happened at that moment that flows forward throughout history.

All of life on this planet, all of God’s creation, became disordered by original sin, the sin that is.

Why do I call it the sin that is, or even, the sin in our skin?

Because it infects everything.

Every molecule, every atom, every tiny bit of creation is impacted and affected by this invisible death-dealing soul cancer. Nothing was or is untouched.

In his excellent book, We Cannot Be Silent, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. explains, “First, we are all equally made in God’s image and each of us is equally able to demonstrate the glory of God in our creaturely existence,  just as we are all equally accountable before God as our Creator. Second, ...the consequences of Adam’s sin even impact our genetic chromosomal structure.”

As a result we have disease, discord, and despair darkening our lifetime on this planet.

The world is out of whack, slightly out of focus, a little off balance. Nature is off kilter. Or, as Paul puts it, we “see through a glass darkly” and “all creation groans.”

Bad to the bone - originated sin

The result of the Fall is that we are born sinful, with a sin nature, and prone to sinful behavior – the sin we do, or originated sin.

This doesn’t mean we can only choose to sin. As Dr. Mohler implies in his quote, sin is something we have to resist choosing. But our natural leaning is toward choosing to do sin and rebel against God.

What is sin in this context of choice? The simplest definition is that sin is choosing to do anything that puts distance between us and God.

A dictionary definition is “a transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate” (American Heritage Dictionary). A Christian apologetics website offers, “Sin is described in the Bible as transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4) and rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 9:7; Joshua 1:18).”

The upshot is that both kinds of sin “will distance us from God.”

The Fix to original sin that enables us to resist originated sin

Before we created beings can adequately and effectively resist originated sin, we need a fix for the effects of original sin.

Original sin left unchecked leads to death -- total death -- as in soul-crushing death.

There’s only one solution, only one cure for our inborn heart of darkness: “...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV).”

Yep, Jesus.

You can rage against this all you want, but that doesn’t change the reality.

Without acknowledging our sinfulness and accepting Christ into our lives, we are utterly hopeless to adequately or ultimately ward off sin and its effects.

Without Christ, we’re doomed to an eternal death.

When good isn’t great -- because grace

Even if you vehemently deny God, curse Christ, and refuse to submit your life to His Lordship, you can still be “good.”

Yes, even impacted by the soul-killing influence of original sin, you can still live a “good” life and find some level of “happiness.”

Why? Because of God’s grace.

Everyone who lives and breathes on this planet is only alive because of God’s grace. Usually referred to as common grace.

As pastor, author, and theologian, Tim Keller, explains, “God gives good gifts of wisdom, talent, beauty, and skill graciously, that is, in completely unmerited ways. He casts them across the human race like seed, in order to enrich, brighten, and preserve the world. Far from being unfair, God’s unmerited acts of blessings make life on earth much more bearable than it should be given the pervasive effects of sin on all of his creation.”

Or, as Paul puts it so eloquently, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17, ESV).

While this all sounds grand, here’s the rub.

Common grace enables our current life but it doesn’t yield eternal life.

So, the bottom line is that you can live a “good” life now without Christ, but not a great life forever in God’s presence. Or, in truth, not even your best life now.

Adding another rub to the rub

The blessing and curse, if you will, of being a Christian is that living it out is not a once and done thing. Effort and intention is needed.

As pastor and author Eugene H. Peterson puts it, it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

Once we submit our lives to Christ, while our salvation is complete, the process that follows -- referred to as sanctification -- is an ongoing, daily choosing to be in Christ.  A working out of our salvation.

While many are happy to slap the label of “Christian” on their lives, not all are willing to do the requisite work to actually be a Christian.

As Peterson says, “There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”

And that’s where we get into trouble.

When there is not a conscious, intentional, willing, Holy Spirit-empowered daily practicing of Christian faith, sin will edge in and mess up as much as possible.

It’s somewhat like being afflicted with an incurable but manageable illness where, as long as you take your medicine regularly, the impact of the illness can be held at bay. Maybe even pushed back. But, once doses are missed, the more the illness surges forward, and the harder it becomes to push against.

In the case of sin, failing to be disciplined in our Christian walk, what is impacted is our thinking, judgment, desires, affections, decisions, and pretty much everything.

To get a better idea of how original sin, as agented by Satan, works out through originated sin, read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. It’s both entertaining and eye-opening.

And one truth we always need to keep our eyes open to when it comes to both kinds of  sin is that Satan is their father and his sole aim is to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10, ESV).

Satan will do this with extreme cunning and intelligence, by any and all means, and at every opportunity.

Terrorism is as sin does

Now we’ve had another mass shooting in the U.S. While at first it seemed to be some sort of workplace dust-up, now it’s looking like it could be associated with “terrorism.” Or maybe it’s a weird blend of motives.

The terrorism being pointed to is of the sort that’s connected with religion. Something that’s also been attributed to Robert Dear’s actions.

While religion can be a factor in such extreme expressions of originated sin, religion isn’t really the cause.

Just as there are “good” Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists, there are also very bad Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists. Feel free to add any other descriptor to these statements (Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, etc.).

In every instance of evil, whether committed by believers or non-believers, what’s happened is sin, agented by Satan, has achieved the upper hand. The good is distorted. The wrong voices are listened to. Lies replace truth. The self reigns. Greed is fed. Morals are skewed. And evil ensues.

As James puts it, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15, ESV).

Terrorism, destroying the unborn, distributing aborted baby body parts, killing those we disagree with, and so many more evils that surround us in this world are all seeded and fueled by sin.

At the heart of all evil is the will of Satan that has been freely yielded to by the bad actor committing the evil deed.

Satan inspires terrorism and all evil done by humans against humans or nature.

All is not lost -- hope wins

Struggling against original sin in order to resist the lure of originated sin is part and parcel of Christian life on this planet until God establishes a “new heaven and new earth.”

Even Paul, the primary author of the New Testament, struggled mightily and wrote about his wrestling in this wrenching passage:
“...I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. ...[It is] sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. ...For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 1:7-25, ESV).

Paul, one of the most educated, intelligent, devout, and disciplined of Christ’s early followers, understands the insistent persistence of sin. Pushing back is hard, but not impossible. Why?

Paul answers his own question, declaring triumphantly, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Paul applied discipline because the goal was worth the effort: “ I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7-10, ESV).

Evil is not God’s fault

As we watch the news with details spilling out revealing the horror behind San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, Paris, and all the rest, we wonder, “Why didn’t God stop this?”

The answer is simple but not usually satisfying for many. God didn’t stop it because He gave us free will. People make choices and those choices, if not rooted in God’s Word and His will, are rooted in sin, and sin produces death.

Besides, those who claim that God should act to prevent senseless killings will also insist He not interfere in their lives when they want to engage in sin. In other words, the demands on God are made as a matter of convenience and are products of whim.

Many think of God like a Santa Claus in the sky, patting them on the head and rewarding them for being good. This is nothing less than a false god, an idol.

Molech was a false god and an idol. He wasn’t real, just as Santa Claus isn’t real. But believing in Molech and paying homage to “him” was costly. The same holds true for whatever false gods and idols we set up as replacements for the one, true God in our lives.

As Bob Dylan once said, “you gotta serve somebody.”

So what’s to be done?

First and foremost, we must forsake sin and turn to Christ. Anything less will always lead to frustration and failure.

And, of course, we need to eschew violence, whether aimed at the living or the yet-to-be-born.

For those of us who are Christians, we need to pray for and act into the world, while we’re here, to be conduits of Christ’s transformative grace.

We must be living examples of truth, love, justice, and the godly way (not the American way).

With kindness, intelligence, compassion, and courage we need to expose evil in the world, resist it, and work diligently to eliminate it.

To be effective for God’s Kingdom in this world means we must be energetic in nurturing our connection with God, our faith in Christ, and our embodiment of the Holy Spirit.

And, of course, we cover everything in prayer, as Christ taught us, beseeching God, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, ESV).

Additional reading:

Let me add a caveat here. What I’m offering is a very ultra-abbreviated discussion of the complexity of sin. Just the gist. Any part of this post could be pulled out and expanded into a book. (Please suggest any you believe would be especially useful.) I’ve tried to keep it brief and yet still the post has expanded to more than 3,000 words, which is a no-no for blogging. Oh well. Feel free to, kindly and clearly, add your thoughts and insights in the comments. And, for you theologians out there, please, no Latin! As always, please be civil. But I do want to hear from you!

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