Being God’s Beloved: Reflections on God’s Love.
Sin is an important topic within the broader theme of God’s love, because sin not only gets in the way of God’s love, but can be considered the antithesis of love for God. Often, when we think about sin, we get hooked up in a litany of sins – sexual lust, lying, blaspheming, stealing, murder, rape and so on. We may also get a bit spiritual and think of sins like pride, sloth, gluttony, gossip. While these are all sins, I’d like us to approach this from a somewhat different perspective, which requires us to start at the very beginning.
On Day 3 we reflected on the heart of God. There we said that God has always been in fellowship with Godself, within the triune Godhead. Father, Son and Spirit have enjoyed perfect intimate communion since before the beginning of time. This kind of relationship – intimate, loving, mutual and egalitarian – is found in the innermost being of God. It not so much something that God does, as something that God is. God does not just engage in relationships; God is relationship.
Out of the fullness of the joy of relationship, God extends Godself beyond the boundaries of God and into relationship with someone other – humanity. This is not about a lack or deficit in God; rather it is about an overabundance of and overwhelming experience of relationship. God desires to expand this kind of fellowship to include others, so that we may know what God knows – the joy of perfect intimacy. God’s intention, then, is for divine-human relationships that mirror the divine-divine relationship – we should love and be loved by God in the same way that the Father, Son and Spirit love and are loved by each other.
On Day 4 we reflected on the idea that God created us in God’s own image. Although this image of God has, over the centuries been thought of as many different things – rationality, morality, creativity and so on – I have suggested that the image of God is best thought of as relationality. Because loving relationship is the heart of God, the image of God must involve loving relationship. And this is borne out by the fact that God created not a singular individual, but a couple, people in relationship with each other, one flesh. And we can thus conclude that we are most like God when we are in the same kind of relationship with each other as is found in the Godhead.
Sin, however, entered the world in Genesis 3, compromising God’s plans for intimate, perfect and eternal relationship with humanity. After Adam and Eve had eaten of the fruit of the Tree, “they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Genesis 3:7). Later, when God came walking in the garden, “they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). The covering up and hiding jointly point to the crux of the fall – a separation from God. And that separation speaks not to a moral failure, but rather to a relationship failure. No longer do we see the kind of open-hearted, guileless, intimate, no-holds-barred relationship that existed before the Fall. We became estranged from God. Since that day, humanity has spent its time covering up and hiding from God.
Sin can best be considered the fracturing of relationship, rather than a moral defect in the makeup of people or acts that violate God’s law. “Sin is not primarily a state of corruption calling for a divine manipulative cure, nor guilt to be wiped out through punishment or satisfaction, but estrangement from God requiring reconciliation”. In the wake of estrangement from God comes disregard for God’s values and vision for humanity, and thus humanity rebels against God, resulting in further estrangement. We become not only estranged from God, but also unaware of our estrangement or need for reconciliation.
Because every human is created in the image of God, whether Christian, devout Muslim or atheist, any sin against any person is a sin also against God. God says as much in Genesis 6:9, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” In other words, killing another person is tantamount to killing God – God is present by the image of God in every person, thus every person is connected to God (even if they are not aware of it) and any attack against another person is an attack against God. Thus there is a strong relational quality to sin.
And in addition, because we ourselves are created in the image in the God, any sin against ourselves is also a sin against God. When I do things in private, things that do not hurt anyone else but go against what God created me to be, I am sinning against myself, and thus against the image of God in me, and thus against God. Sin is relational, but it is also personal. The notion that anything goes so long as we don’t hurt anyone else does not pan out when we consider that we ourselves bear the image of God in our innermost being.
So, sin is like a three-stranded cord, with psychological, social and spiritual aspects – it is not merely an individual problem. Psychologically, I sin against myself, harming myself. Socially, I sin against others, harming them. Spirituality, all sin against myself and sin against others is sin against God’s image and thus against God. It may help to think of the heavenly and earthly beings as a massive system or network, in which the activities of each one impact on all the others because of the shared image of God. An injury to another person or oneself or a secret blasphemy against God causes injury to other, self or God, with a resultant ripple effect through the entire system. There is no such thing as private sin.
Every sin thus grieves God. Sin is a turning away from everything that God created us to be, from God’s intention in creation and from God’s vision for us as individuals and as a race. Small wonder that God wiped the slate clean in Genesis 6.
The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth… because I am grieved that I have made them’. (Genesis 6:5-7)
The Flood is surely an act of rage, of divine wrath against humanity. Wiping out almost the entire human race should not be trivialised. And in the pulpit this wrath is often emphasised as God’s reaction to our sin; wrath, which leads to judgement and damnation.
But what is striking in these verses from Genesis 6 is the centrality of grief and pain, rather than anger. This passage, more than most, gives a unique and invaluable glimpse into the inner emotional life of God, as we are told what God felt and thought as God deliberated on the state of humanity. Grief and pain are the two emotions reported. Although God speaks of wiping humanity from the face of the earth, there is no mention of anger, and indeed the writing itself is more grief-wracked than wrathful.
Similarly, our sin elicits in God primarily a grief reaction rather than a rage reaction. When I sin, when you sin, God’s heart breaks. Anger may and sometimes does come later, but the core of God’s response to our sin is sadness, grief, disappointment.
Why? Because God has created us for so much more. God has in mind an image of what we are intended to be of what we could be if we remained in fellowship with God. And it is a glorious, wonderful image! The gap between that image and the reality is enough to break God’s heart.
Sometimes, when I sin, I want to run and hide from God’s anger towards me, and so I avoid him, which of course makes sin easier, which draws me still further away. It is a vicious circle that leads me away from fellowship, and not closer to God.
But if, rather, I think of my sin as grieving God, my motivation for avoiding sin changes. Instead of not sinning out of fear of judgement, I avoid sinning so that I do not grieve the one who I know loves me more than any other. I avoid sinning because my relationship with God is so important and vital. And when I do sin, I don’t hide out of fear, but turn back to God and share God’s grief over my own wretchedness. Grief invites reconciliation, while anger invites avoidance.
Our sin wounds God because we are intimately connected with God, whether or not we believe in God, whether or not we recognise we are connected with God. The connection is a fact that does not care about what we think about God. And that connection is an expression of God’s love for us. Our sin, then, is a violation of that love, a betrayal of God’s love.
Meditation for the Day
Give fresh thought to the topic of sin. Think about sin in your own life. Try to move beyond listing sins, to perceiving the relational aspects of sin. Bring this to God in prayer.
Prayer for the Day
Precious Saviour, forgive me for the many ways in which I break your image, which you have woven into the fabric of my being. Help me, day by day, breath by breath, to be transformed into your likeness.
 Brümmer, V. (2005). Atonement, Christology and the Trinity: Making sense of Christian doctrine. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, p. 49.
Good advice. If we all adopt this as a modus operandi, the world will be a sweeter place.
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