Posted by: Dan | June 22, 2007

The Spiritual is Political: Sin-and-Death, Forgiveness-and-Life

Sin and death cannot be separated, Paul uses them almost interchangeably… so that sin in effect is death-in-life, with the awful threat that it will one day be made absolute.
~ John A. Ziesler, Pauline Christianity, 53.

I was doing some research for my thesis when I came across this quote from Ziesler. Given recent conversations (wherein it has been argued that I am making “political” something that is essential “spiritual” — with the implication that the “political” and the “spiritual” belong to two distinct realms), this quote jumped out at me.

You see, it is precisely this intimate and indissoluble link between “sin” and “death” that reminds us, once again, of the intimate and indissoluble link between the spiritual and the political. The language of “sin” plunges us into the realm of the religious and the cultic, whereas the language of “death” plunges us into the social and the economic. Sin speaks of less tangible realities (like the fracturing of relationship between God, creation, and each individual person), whereas death speaks of more concrete realities (like disease, neglect, violence, and starvation). Of course, as Paul makes clear, we cannot speak of one of those things apart from the other. It is not as if we can choose to confront sin while ignoring death (the error of many socially “conservative” Christians), or confront death while ignoring sin (the error of many socially “radical” Christians). Death is sin-made-manifest, and sin is the hidden root of death.

Consequently, if the Church is to engage in the “spiritual” proclamation of the forgiveness of sins, such a proclamation must be accompanied by the “politics” of (new) life. These, too, are two sides of the same coin. Forgiveness speaks of less tangible realities (like the restoration of relationship between God, creation, and each individual person), whereas life speaks of more concrete realities (like healing, charity, peace, and table fellowship). We cannot proclaim one of these things (in word and deed) without also proclaiming the other (in word and deed). Life is forgiveness-made-manifest, and forgiveness is the hidden root of life.

Thus, if sin is “death-in-life” carrying “the awful threat that it will one day be made absolute” then forgiveness is “new-life-in-the-presence-of-death,” carrying the wonderful promise that it will one day be made absolute. And that, well, that is very good news.

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