Category Archives: sin

Connecting the dots: porn and rape


A few days ago a young woman/teen was found partially clothed and semi-conscious under a Philadelphia bridge. At the time I am writing this post, it is assumed (nothing too outlandish here) that she was assaulted and raped and left for dead. Whether or not this turns out to be the exact situation for this injured woman matters not for the rest of the post. What does matter is that we know that rape happens.

How does one get to the place of treating another human being like an object and caring nothing for that person’s feelings, interests? We’d like to believe that rape, murder, slavery, trafficking, and the sort are different sorts of animals than the wee little sins we commit. But such heinous acts have exactly the same roots as “normal” objectification.

Take porn for example. On first blush, there is not any interpersonal crime in looking at a pornographic image. The assumption goes that the individuals in the pictures have voluntarily allowed themselves to be photographed and are happy with what they are doing. Of course, we know that these two assumptions are not always true. But even IF we accept the assumption, we must also accept that the viewer of the pictures cares nothing about the person in the picture. They exist for one reason only–to provide pleasure for the viewer. They have no feelings, they are only objects on a page.

The one dimensional image allows the viewer to begin the process of not seeing the other and not seeing their abuse of the other. And we are well aware of the common path of porn use. Start with a scantily clad image, move to complete nude, then to more and more dramatic pictures of sex acts which often include bondage, pain, or other grotesque acts.

Most people would have trouble watching a friend or a loved one engage in such an act, much less act out such activity on someone in pain. Most of us couldn’t just rape a stranger–at least at this point. But the root is the same: ignoring the personhood of the person in front of us. The person who is able to rape, traffick, or enslave has just been more successful in protecting themself from empathy, putting themself in the shoes of another, etc. We haven’t yet gone that far but notice that we begin such activities by our ability to objectify people on television or even in our everyday life. We murder (in our hearts) the incompetent bagger at the grocery store. We care little about his or her life. I’m not putting a passing hateful thought on par with rape but when we fail to recognize the person on the other side we begin to make it possible to deny the humanness of the other, whether a victim of a crime or the perpetrator.

Reminds me of Miroslav Volf’s quote in Exclusion and Embrace (p. 124): 

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners.”

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Filed under Abuse, christian psychology, Christianity, deception, pornography, sin

Jack Miller on repentance (again)


If you haven’t seen Jack Miller’s little book on repentance I encourage you get ahold of the new edition published by CLC publications (2009). The cost is under 8 dollars! Jack Miller wrote the first edition in 1975 under the title, “Repentance and the 2oth Century Man”. This one, entitled: Repentance: A Daring Call to Real Surrenderalso includes a foreward by Andree Seu (World Magazine) and an epilogue by Miller’s widow, Rose Marie.

Here’s why I find this little book very helpful. It clarifies the subtle but oh-so-important differences between true repentance and penance; between true repentance and regret. It reminds us that repentance is a daily moment-by-moment attitude but is not something that is full of shame and morose feelings. 

As someone who works with Christians struggling with addictive patterns, I find one of the greatest challenges is to help clients move from penance to repentance and from guilt to freedom. This book ought to help with both.   

For those unfamiliar with Jack’s legacy, he started New Life Presbyterian Church in Glenside (my church) and out of that church a number of other churches were planted as well as the founding of World Harvest Missionwhich has 170 missionaries now in 15 countries–including Uganda where missionaries were intimately involved in the care of those suffering through last year’s ebola outbreak.

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Filed under addiction, biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Evangelicals, self-deception, sin

Why we give hollow confessions


On a way too regular basis we observe others making apologies and/or confessions for wrongs done. This morning in my house, my one son hurt the feelings of the other and in working through the problem he made his apology under our direction. Not to be outdone, the other son wasn’t truthful about the situation and so later he too made a directed apology (aka, highly encouraged, but not forced).

Have you noticed that these kinds of apologies, whether from a ten year old or a 50 year old, ring hollow? It is easy from our stand point to concur that they don’t really mean what they say.

I think, in general, that this assessment isn’t accurate. Here’s why.

To hurt another; to do something for ourselves at the cost of others requires that we divorce empathy and self, reality and fantasy. So, when we do apologize, we cannot quickly reconnect these parts. Often the person does feel bad, guilty, afraid of the consequences. Notice that these feelings are rather self-centered. In time, if they go about reconnecting care for others and their feelings, they will feel much more empathy and concern for the wounded party. However, at the outset of their confession, these two things are still divorced. Thus the hollow confession. They do not know what they are really apologizing for beyond a few facts. The longer the deception, the longer the disconnection and time taken to reconnect to the experience of the other.

There are other confounding variables that hinder empathic confessions. One’s goal (get out of trouble, stop the pressure, smooth it over, please the other) may also decrease the likelihood empathy.

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Filed under Christianity, conflicts, deception, Repentance, self-deception, sin

The God I Don’t Understand 7: How does the Cross work?


My apologies to those waiting for the next chapter in Wright’s book. Some other writing assignments require me to put down my fun books and pick up some work-related reading these days. But enough of my excuses… In chapter 7 Chris Wright admits that one answer to the question, “How did the cross achieve salvation for us?” is simple and from Scripture: “Because it did.” But he like many others would rather not stop there. And he contends the bible doesn’t stop there either.

He reminds the reader that evangelical interpreters of the Bible regard the most helpful metaphor of the cross as judicial–substitutionary atonement. There are other metaphors used in the bible to explain the “how” but 1 Cor 15:3 underlines and emphasizes that Christ’s death on the cross was sacrificial and substitutionary. Here Wright brings up the controversy surrounding “penal substitution” and the grounds by which some reject this forensic focus to substitutionary atonement. Of the 7 reasons he lists, the primary ones (in my eyes) are the sense that penal substitution focuses too much on guilt, portrays God as mechanistic or always angry, and emphasizes the only way to deal with sin is with violence.

Wright believes the arguments for rejecting penal substitution would be good if in fact evangelicals held them. But he fears that the arguments against the penal metaphor are caricatures. From this point he looks at how the bible paints God’s love and anger. His anger and love must be, he contends, taken together as part of a whole, rather than having one negate the other. The two expressions are not contrary to each other any more than we may be angry with a loved one for bad behavior and yet still love them at the same time. He suggests the Cross satisfies both God’s love and anger.

He further rejects the conflict between God the father and Jesus the son. God is not the angry father and Jesus the loving son who steps between us. That viewpoint would destroy God’s essential unity (see John 17 for this). He uses extensive quotes from John Stott here to bolster his argument

Finally, he addresses the concepts of guilt and shame. The argument has arise that penal atonement only makes sense in cultures with a “developed sense of personal and objective guilt.” Shame cultures, it is suggested, would not be able to identify as well. Further, in a postmodern world it appears that shame is the more likely experience (of not being internally consistent with oneself). But Wright says that both shame and guilt are addressed by the cross and both are related. He points to Ezekiel who talks about being shamed and feeling shamed (36:16-32). The cross (and the forgiveness behind it) takes away the shame quality even though they still feel it when they remember what God has done. Wright suggests that ongoing feeling is healthy. He quotes from another of his books

Israel were not to feel ashamed in the presence of other nations (36:15), but they were to feel ashamed in the presence of their own memories before God (36:31-32). Similarly, there is a proper sense in which the believer may rightly hold up her head in company.

He then talks about how God in the OT and Jesus in the NT publicly affirms those who were shamed. God removes their shame, no matter what others think of them. They now hold their head high. And yet, Wright tries to articulate that this person may still feel shame when remembering past sins but he is quick to point out that this feeling does not crush but fuels “genuine repentance and humility and for joy and peace that flow from that source alone.”

While the content of this chapter seems a bit more about confronting a wrong he sees in the penal substitution debate than about answering how the cross works, nonetheless I find his writing about guilt and shame quite helpful here–especially how he distinguishes the kinds and sources of shame. I think it might be helpful for those who trust in Jesus but who struggle with shame to consider for a moment what their shame drives them to do. To hide? To be grateful for God’s restorative work?

Next week, we’ll look at his final chapter on the cross.

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Filed under anger, Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Christian Apologetics, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, sin, Uncategorized

Great illustration of the strength of addiction


Am reading CS Lewis’ The Silver Chairagain (my least favorite of the Narnia chronicles). If you’ve not read it, it tells the story of the King Caspian’s son, Prince Rilian, and his escape from the underworld by the help of two British children and a Marshwiggle. Prince Rilian has been captured by a witch who keeps him insane and believing that he was rescued by her and that she will put him on a throne soon in the overworld. He stays sane except for an hour when he is bound to a silver chair at which point he comes to and know who he is and that the evil witch murdered his mother.

The children and the marshwiggle help him escape the chair while he is sane. He turns on the chair with a sword and shreds it to pieces. At that moment, he has all the clarity of sane thinking and sees reality as it really is. But moments later, the witch returns and begins to cloud his mind with a soothing music, voice and something thrown on the fire. Within minutes they begin to doubt the truth and believe that what is bad is good and what is good is only a fantasy. They disbelieve Aslan, the sun. The Overworld is fantasy and the underworld is the true world.

Now, this story is not about addiction but it reminded me how quickly we can move from seeing the abomination of an addictive habit to beginning to believe it might not be so bad. The addict “repents” from the consequences of their action only to fall right back because the siren song has their number.

Do you notice this in your life about irritability, rage, jealousy, substances, food, internet sex? It doesn’t have to be a traditional addiction, just something that we find ourselves telling (to ourselves) those sweet little lies.

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Filed under addiction, christian counseling, christian psychology, Desires, self-deception, sin

The God I don’t Understand 5: OT violence?


We come to part two of Christopher Wright’s, The God I Don’t Understand(IVP, 2008). In the last section he muses about the problem of the existence of evil but in this section he considers the struggle to understand the violence and wrath of God found in the Old Testament. Wright says that atheists like Richard Dawkins have no trouble understanding (in their way of thinking) the God of the OT. He’s just a “petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak…vindictive, bloodthirsty…malevolent bully.” (as quoted on p. 73). Wright says their struggle is only to understand Christians who say they believe in this kind of God. It is Christians who struggle to understand the character of God and how punishments on whole families fits with the God of love we imagine. For the next two chapters he wants to consider the following question:

How are we to understand the language of God’s anger, jealousy, or vengeance alongside of what we have been taught about God’s love, mercy, and compassion? (p. 74)

And he wants to apply this to the treatment of the Canaanites.

We’ll look here at his chapter 4 which outlines three popular (but in his mind wrong) attempts to get around the interpretation of a capricious genocidal God.

1. OT God vs. NT God. That is, some try to ignore the problems of the OT by claiming that the NT sets to rights the OT. Wright says that behind this assumption is that the OT God is all “fire and brimstone, war and vengeance, blood and punishment. The so-called God of the New Testament is much nicer altogether.” (77).

Wright disagrees with this assumption because the OT has much to say about God’s compassion and love, the NT, “has much to say (and more in fact) about the anger and judgment of God…[and] because Jesus and writers of the New Testament never seem embarrassed by Old Testament stories, nor do they reject or even correct them (though they do move beyond them).” (ibid.)

To bolster his argument, Wright examines a number of OT passages (e.g., Ex. 34:6-7 [which he says is the "most pervasive definitions of the character of God in the Bible...Love is for thousands; punishment is for thre and four."], Ps. 103:8-14, Jer. 31:3, 20, Eze 33:11, Deut 7, 10). Then he examines Jesus as the most frequent discussant of hell, the day of judgment, and then cites John Wenham’s observation that while the OT focuses on temporal punishment, the NT focuses on eternal punishments.

Finally, he addresses the ways the NT writers refer to the OT. They refer to the punishment of Sodom and of Korah. They refer to other horrors and do not re-interpret (though they do include Samson in the lessons of faith). And so, he concludes that you cannot and should not put the NT against the OT to resolve the problem of violence.

2. The Israelites thought they were doing God’s will to wipe out the Canaanites but were wrong. This is the 2nd way some try to get around the violence of the OT. God couldn’t have been behind it. It must have been the Israelites mistaken view that God was telling them to destroy the inhabitants of the land. Wright believes this argument fails because (a) when people speak falsely or act falsely for God, it is corrected [hmm., is that always true?] as in Nathan’s advice to David or in Jehu’s bloodbath murder of Baal priests. Since nowhere does the conquest of Canaan get rebuked…therefore it cannot be a misinterpretation of God’s will, and (b) in fact, the unwillingness to conquer the land (after the spies came back) led to the the wilderness wanderings and is seen as disobedience of God in both testaments. Wright concludes,

you simply can’t surgically remove the conquest alone from the great sweep of Bible history…while leaving all the rest of the story intact within the sovereign will of God. At least, you can’t if you treat the Bible seriously as a whole. (p. 83)

3. The conquest passages are allegory for the purpose of getting a “spiritual lesson” from them. Wright doesn’t deny the value of spiritualizing texts. But, he concludes that the “spiritual use of the Old Testament narratives is secondary and derivative. Their primary form is simply historical narrative.” (p. 84).

No one (and I imagine native Palestinians would be included) believes that the stories of the OT are intended as fictional accounts, even if numbers of people killed are somewhat symbolic or estimates.

So, if these ways of thinking about the conquest are not helpful, what is? That will be the content of chapter five.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Christian Apologetics, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, sin

Volf on “Giving and Forgiving”


On Saturday I attended Miroslav Volf’s 3 hour talk on the topic of renewing grace and forgiveness in a “culture stripped of grace.” The first talk, “A Culture stripped of grace” he had these things to say:

1. Our culture is oriented around satisfying desires. If you ask a person what makes us flourish, you may get get a blank stare, or, they perceive that flourishing means living with satisfaction. Can we imagine flourishing without met desires? Maybe we should speak of “living well” instead?

2. We have lost some of those things that religion teaches us how to curtail desire. We live in a “grab ass/kick ass world” We grab what we can and take revenge on those who try to take from us or block us from what we think we deserve.

3. We tend to live in 3 (maybe 4?) modes
a. Taking mode (get what we want) Notice that life becomes dull in taking mode and so you need bigger and bigger takes. “Opiate for the people is commercialized culture, not religion.”
b. Investing mode (try to get just a bit more than we get)
c. Exchange mode(rough equivalency of giving and getting). This is where we live most of the time and it isn’t bad
d. Gift mode (giving more than we hope to get). Here he made allusions to bad gift giving which he says is worse than exchange mode.

4. What happens when gift mode shrinks in culture or goes away? Human life is impossible w/o gifting. We cannot pay enough to cover the costs from being raised, for example. We begin to see, when gift mode shrinks, that giving is being a fool, a loser, a sucker. In this current crisis we are afraid not of going hungry but of not being able to have what we want. 

He ended the talk with the question we wants us  to ask: What is our life for? This requires us to think and stop just reacting to desires and culture cues. What is our life for? Is it for me or for giving? How might this current crisis move us to ask this question?

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Filed under church and culture, cultural apologetics, Doctrine/Theology, Forgiveness, sin

The God I don’t Understand 2: Chapter 1


Chapter one of Chris Wright’s The God I don’t Understand (Zondervan, 2008) is the first chapter of his section entitled: “What about evil and suffering?” He reminds us that everyone struggles with the existence of evil in the world but that it is a particular struggle for the Christian  given our view of a good and sovereign God.

We Christians believe that there is one living God, the creator of the whole universe, who is personal, good, loving, omnipotent, and sovereign over all that happens. (p. 27)

He asks,

What help does the Bible give us in holding these jarring contradictions together in our minds in such a way that, even if it does not give us an answer we can fully understand, it does give us hope that we can fully trust? Or to put it another way: Whereas we often ask, “Why?” people in the Bible more often ask “How long?” (ibid)

So chapter one explores the mystery of evil. The Bible, he says, “compells us to accept the mystery of evil” (p. 29) in terms of its origin since the Bible does not explain its ultimate origin.

Despite the mystery, Wright tells us the origin of the “vast quantity” of evil can be known–the result of human sin and wickedness. So he distinguishes moral from natural evil. Moral evil is both intentional and unintentional acts (or failure to act) that cause human suffering. Of these Wright says,

Somehow, we manage to live with such facts, simply because they are so common and universal that we have “normalized” them, even if we regret or resent them and even if we grudgingly admit that humanity itself is largely to blame. (p. 31)

But, when we think of natural causes of suffering, “the cry goes up, “How can God allow such a thing? How can God allow such suffering?…Our gut reaction is to accuse God of callousness or carelessness and to demand that he do something to stop such things.” (ibid)

He muses that God might respond to such an accusation (especially those who don’t believe in God) with,

Well, excuse me, but if we’re talking here about who allows what, let point out that thousands of children are dying every minute in your world of preventable diseases that you have the means (but obviously not the will) to stop. How can you allow that?

If the large majority of sin is from human wickedness then Wright says we have to admit that none of us escapes the judgment. We both do evil and are complicit in evil. We benefit from the evil done elsewhere (think cheap clothing made in Asia). However, Wright doesn’t want us to wallow in guilt:

I say that not to turn all our enjoyment of life into guilty depression. Rather, as we enjoy the good gifts of God’s creation, we must at the same time accept the Bible’s diagnosis of how radical, pervasive, and deeply ingrained sin has become in all human life and relationships. (p. 35)

At this point in the chapter he steps back to ask where evil comes from even though he already stated we have no answer. “Evil seems to explode into the Bible narrative , unannounced, already formed, without explanation or rationale.” (p. 35) What can we say about evil from the Biblical record. Wright says, (a) It was not God, (b) it was not another human being, but (c) it was something from within creation. “Whatever the serpent in the narrative is, then, or whatever it represents, it is out of place, an intruder, unwelcome, incoherent, contrary to the story so far.” (p. 36) We have warrant from elsewhere in Scripture to see Satan as a fallen angel. Wright then asks about Satan. He reminds us that Satan isn’t God, isn’t omnipotent nor omniscient nor omnipresent. Wright suggests that we, “should take Satan seriously, but we should not dignify him with greater reality and power than is proper for a creature.” (p. 36)

Wright goes on to explore the differences between the devil and humans and gives us this pithy little statement, “The Bible calls us not so much to believe in the devil as to believe against the devil.” (p. 38.)

In summary, Wright reminds us that we cannot understand the presence of evil. This, he says, is a good thing.

“…we finite human beings cannot, indeed must not, “make sense” of evil. For the final truth is that evil does not make sense. “Sense” is part of our rationality that in itself is part of God’s good creation and God’s image in us. So evil can have no sense, since sense itself is a good thing.” (p. 42)

Instead Wright tells us that we are to grieve, weep, lament, protests, scream in pain and anger and cry out, “How long …” And he ends the chapter with the bible’s answer, “That’s OK. Go right ahead. And here are some words you may like to use when you feel that way.” (p. 43) What Wright doesn’t say is that our Savior uses these same words to communicate to the father.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Christian Apologetics, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, sin, suffering

Psalm 36: How evil grows and a authentic response


In our staff meeting at Diane Langberg’s we read from a portion of George Adams Smith’s 4 Psalms where he devotionally comments on Psalm 36. He says there is a better translation of the first verse which suggests evil starts as a whisper in the heart and grows to full bloom of deception to the point where we don’t care but plan openly to sin. Then in an abrupt fashion, the Psalm changes course and focuses on the glory and majesty of God. This, he says, is the antidote to the growing problem (no, not the prostate per recent ads). You can check out Smith’s writing on-line at www.gutenberg.org. Search for him using the author search form. This book is his only work on this wonderful site.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Meditations, sin

3 inches too short


I prefer to either fail miserably or to hit a home run. What I hate is to put my all in it, come close to a great job done but realize my effort wasn’t good enough. You know, coming in 4th in the Olympics is more painful than 10th. Maybe this relates to that glory in self thing I wrote about yesterday.

What prompts this thought? On Friday I spent the entire afternoon putting on a new gutter on my house. I knew it would be a stretch for me since I’ve never done that, would be doing it alone, and am not great with my hands. After 4 hours of going up and down my ladder, using an electric screwdriver over my head, I installed 31.5 feet of gutter to my back roof.

It looked great. And just in time since a tropical storm was passing by our area. I enjoyed knowing I had accomplished a task that was difficult (for me).

Then the storm came. The gutter worked great…except it was 3 inches too short. My roof overhangs the fascia board by 3 inches on one end. I neatly lined the gutter to the edge of the fascia board. It’s amazing just how much water runs down that little bit of roof.

I want it to be good enough but the fact is it isn’t. Too much water comes down and puddles near the foundation. It must be changed. It will require I go back up the ladder, loosen the fasteners, slide the gutter over, and manufacture another end piece that is 3 inches longer than the last one I did.

How do you respond to the realization that something you worked hard enough on isn’t good enough? My response is to keep wishing it is good enough. Just don’t go into the back yard and don’t look up. Don’t look out the kitchen window when it is raining. This is the proverbial ostrich response. My second response is to figure out if there is some easy way out. A simple fix. I’ll spend a good deal of time trying this path even though I could expend less energy in just fixing the problem. I just don’t want to give up and admit I screwed up.

I think I’m like this about my sin as well. I see my weaknesses and I’m tempted to ignore or find some creative way to call it good.

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Filed under personality, sin