Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Are All Sins Equal?

Staks has touched another nerve when he says, “The littlest sin stains the soul just as much as a large sin. Both are equally as intolerable to God …. In [hell] for a pinch, in for a pound. … If a sin is a sin is a sin, [then] why not murder and steal like crazy [?]”

I’ve asked the same question: is Christianity a caste system, where no matter how evil Christians are, they’re in, but no matter how good nonbelievers are, they’re out? It would appear so.

The difference between biblical Christianity and every other religion is this: only the Bible teaches that we join God’s team totally on God’s initiative and not on our own merit. Even the faith by which we receive God’s grace is a gift. Why God would create people who cannot help being sinful is beyond me. The closest I can get is that anyone can fall in love with the beautiful, smart, witty, and healthy, but we intuitively have special respect for one who is willing to sacrifice for the ugly, dull, sickly, and hateful, and God wants to show us that he is willing to suffer and die for the undeserving.

To which you say, Yeah, right: try to sell that to someone who could sing, “Different is nice but it sure isn’t pretty / Pretty’s what it’s all about / I never knew anyone who was ‘different’ / Who couldn’t figure that out.” On the other hand, if there is no God, then people who are ugly, weak, and otherwise undesirable are by definition inferior; the only alternative is to say, “I think they’re just as worthwhile as anyone else,” but it’s just your word against someone else’s.

We don’t go to hell because of our sins; we go because we deserve to, because of our nature, which is to love sin and reject God. We are born alienated from God, and we prefer that alienation to the forgiveness, reconciliation, discipline, and process of self-denial that becoming conformed to God’s image requires. And by “we” I mean me.

Our sins are repugnant to God, but they’re not kryptonite that renders God powerless; if it were, he couldn’t watch us sin, He doesn’t like our sin, but his preferred way of dealing with it is unlike the police surveillance state; he prefers to come as a servant and healer, as Jesus demonstrated when he was on earth. Yes, there will be time for judgment, but he’s in no hurry. He offers forgiveness as a gift.

Let’s go the “sin is like an ink stain” analogy one better. As someone hands you a drink, he says, “It got in the way of my kid peeing, but only a drop or so got in.” Will you drink it? Or would only a floating pooplet stop you? Either way, it’s no go, right? That’s the “all sins are equal” aspect to God’s justice system. Now, you’re swimming in a lake and you hear someone say, “Warm water coming!” Or someone puts their infant in the water, even in a diaper: you know what that kids going to do eventually. Do you get out? But you would get out if you saw poop floating by. That’s the “all sins aren’t equal” aspect.

That’s the best I can do. I have no airtight answers. If the universe is fundamentally personal and good, I’ll find out for sure which side I’m on on judgment day. If it’s fundamentally dead, I’ll never know for sure. I prefer to hope.


  1. We are born alienated from God? How so?

  2. "In Adam's fall we sinnèd all," as the old Sunday school saying puts it. If not, abortionists and infanticides are God's most effective evangelists.

    In Adam, all die; even so, in Christ shall all be made alive.

    The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?

    And, for what it's worth, I'd prefer to be wrong on this score: the idea that God would send to eternal torment an infant who never had a rational thought, let alone an aborted fetus, goes against everything I've been taught to admire about his character. Either way, it is in his treatment of the helpless that he will prove his character.

  3. That may be the Sunday school saying, but that's not the Bible. Romans 5:12-16 teaches that through Adam's sin death entered the world, even those who had not violated a command (verse 14).

    Sin is an action (or sometimes a lack of an action). This requires a decision making process that fully understands the consequence of that action. Children, and arguably people who are mentally deficient, do not have that capability.

    If children were by nature sinful, why would Jesus tells his disciples that to be his followers they must become like little children? The reason is that little children lack the ability to understand right or wrong and are therefore innocent.

    Think back to when your children were young. They probably thought nothing of being naked--even in mixed company. As adults they would probably think twice about that now. The reason is that they are no longer innocent and are thereby subject to God's judgment.

  4. I haven't been blogging for long, but I suspect the greatest joy is receiving a comment from someone whom one cannot identify. So I'm guessing my readership now includes people I haven't met. Thanks for writing!

    As for the substance of your statement, I like it better than mine. I'm just not sure it's correct. If salvation is through faith in Christ alone, "How can they call on the one they have not believed in? How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? How can they hear without someone preaching to them?"

    Common sense would dictate that infants and even adults who haven't heard would be exempt from the requirement to come to faith: "In the past God overlooked such ignorance." The children of believers are clearly included in the covenant (Acts 2:39; 16:31-33), but I'm not sure about the infants of unbelievers (e.g., 1 Sam 15:3---is Jesus not the Son of the God who told Saul to kill all the infants?).

    Yet the same Paul says, "All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law."

    So I hope you're right, but either way, we are to do all we can to urge everyone we can to be reconciled to God and to make the message believable by being good neighbors.

    Again, from what seems clear to me from the Bible, I'd say God on judgment day will show his grace, love, and mercy primarily through how he treats the helpless and unlovely, including those who have never heard.