We do not live in the Garden of Eden (Utopia, Shangri La, Paradise — you name it). Most of us would agree that it is self evident that something is fundamentally wrong with the world we currently occupy. The 20th century, with genocide, war, greed, injustice, and selfishness, has disabused the optimistic view of the inherent goodness of humanity and the evolution of human society. So then, what is the problem — and — what is the solution?
In Chapter 10 of The Reason for God Tim Keller tackles the problem. The Christian answer of course is Sin – but this simply begs the question, unless we first come to an understanding of sin.
Keller defines sin fundamentally as seeking to establish self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God. (p. 162) Sin is failure to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
Sin has far-reaching consequences. If we fail to love God, we will fail to love our neighbors. If we fail to love our neighbors, we have first failed to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Here we can move on to 1 John 4:7-8
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
This does not mean that non-Christians or those who fail to love God are intrinsically amoral monsters. It does mean that all will fall short of the ideal, tainted by pursuit of something less than ideal.
Keller expands on this idea of sin. He suggests that identity apart from God is inherently unstable. Self worth and self identity can disappear in an instant if founded on freedom, success, parenthood, work, achievement, church leadership, the esteem of others, social action, charity, …, even the most honorable and altruistic goal.
Worse yet – Keller claims that identity apart from God is socially destructive.
If our highest ultimate goal is centered in the good of our family we will tend to care less for other families.
If our highest goal is the good of our nation we will tend to care less for other nations, and may “defend” ours at all costs.
If our highest goal is our individual happiness we will put our economic and power interests ahead of others.
If our highest goal is our religion we will despise and demonize those from other religious traditions.
If our highest goal is the good of our church, if our identity is centered in our church or denomination, we will defend it by denigrating other churches and denominations.
And – think about it — if our identity is centered on our class, our race, our gender — classism, racism, and sexism are the unavoidable consequences.
So racism, classism, and sexism are not matters of ignorance or lack of education. Foucault and others in our time have shown that it is far harder than we think to have a self-identity that doesn’t lead to exclusion. The real culture war is taking place inside our own disordered hearts, wracked by inordinate desires for things that control us, that lead us to feel superior and exclude those without them, and that fail to satisfy us even when we get them. (p. 169)
The problem is not “human evil” – power, domination, and violence. These are devastatingly present in our world of course, but they are merely unavoidable consequences of the root problem.
In this chapter Keller quotes Soren Kierkegaard, CS Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Thomas Oden, Jonathan Edwards, and more.
Sayers in Creed or Chaos concludes:
The Christian dogma of the double nature in man – which asserts that man is disintegrated and necessarily imperfect in himself and all his works, yet closely related by a real unity of substance with an eternal perfection within and beyond him – makes the present parlous state of human society seem less hopeless and less irrational. (p. 168)
Keller ties all this together with the Biblical account of the Fall in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve turned away from focus on life with God at the center and we all follow suit. We intrinsically turn away from a life with God at the center. He also looks at Romans 8 and ties this back to the Fall.
The Solution? When Sin is defined not as the bad things we do, but as this reorientation away from God as the center and Jesus as Lord, the solution is both easier and harder. It is easier because it requires only one thing, a refocus on God himself, and harder because it requires a total refocus of everything we are and desire. Here Keller quotes CS Lewis from “Is Christianity Hard or Easy?”.
The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead.For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves” – our personal happiness centered on money or pleasure or ambition – and hoping to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you cannot do. If I am a grass field – all the cutting will keep the grass less but won’t produce wheat. If I want wheat … I must be plowed up and re-sown. (pp. 171-172)
Keller then gives his own take on the power of the solution.
But we all are being pursued by guilt because we must have an identity and there must be some standard to live up to by which we get that identity. Whatever you base your life on – you have to live up to that. Jesus is the one Lord you can live for who died for you – who breathed his last breath for you. Does that sound oppressive?
Everybody has to live for something. Whatever that something is becomes “Lord of your life,” whether you think of it that way or not. Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive him, will fulfill you completely, and, if you fail him, will forgive you eternally. (p. 172-173)
Ok — Keller has had his say, now lets open the general discussion:
Is Keller right in his definition of sin ? and Is this the problem?
How would you define sin – and based on your definition, what is the solution?
On a more general note – in our current post-Christian culture:
How would you convince a skeptic of both problem and solution?
Is there any general agreement that Keller is right and there is a problem?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.