Posted by: Dan | April 19, 2009

Questioning (a few) Christian Truisms

Just a few scattered and questioning thoughts regarding a couple of statements that are treated as truisms within certain contemporary Christian circles.

First truism: ‘God loves everybody equally.’

Is this really true?  Doesn’t it seem a little suspicious that this statement is one that is repeated ad nauseum by Christians who are well-situated in places of comfort and privilege within predatory and death-dealing societies?

So, even if this statement is true, shouldn’t we instead be emphasising that God’s love is one that calls the oppressed to liberation and the oppressors to repentance?  Isn’t it a little irresponsible and self-serving to neglect to mention that God’s love calls us to particular historical actions and ways of being?  Doesn’t this mean that, for those Christians mentioned above, it might be better to say: “God loves you, but God sure as hell hates what you are doing with your life”?

Second truism: “All sins are equal in God’s eyes.”

Is this a true statement?  Does it really reflect the way in which God engages sin within the biblical narrative?  In actuality doesn’t the biblical story show us that God thinks some actions are far worse than others?  After all, to pick just one example, doesn’t God permit drunkenness amongst the poor, while simultaneously condemning the wealthy who spend their money on booze instead on sharing their wealth with others?

Once again, isn’t it a little suspicious that this sort of thinking is popular amongst Western Christians of status and privilege?  Given that almost all areas of their lives are saturated with the blood of others, shouldn’t we think twice before we believe them when they tell us that ‘all sins are equal in God’s eyes’?

Advertisements

Responses

  1. […] Useful Stuff 4 U created an interesting post today on Questioning (a few) Christian TruismsHere’s a short outlineSecond truism: “All sins are equal in God’s … thinks some actions are far worse than others?  After all, to pick just one example, doesn’t […]

  2. I think you make a good point. There is sort of an Animal-Farm-esque extension that I truly oppose: “God love everyone equally, especially me” and “all sins are equal in the eyes of God, yours are just more equal.”

    Where I hesitate is where thinking against these things leads into an Arthur Pink sort of Calvinism where God becomes evil and actually only loves the elect and hates the reprobate. And of course, there is also the privileging of sin that occurs when moral hierarchies are imposed, usually something at the bottom of one of Paul’s vice lists like drunkenness, homosexuality, or fornication.

    But I follow you as well to a point. I would definitely agree that God is, in his love, angry with oppressors, and that I should be called to account for the blood on my hands. I also agree that there is a certain hierarchy of sin, and the top of the list doesn’t include certain moral pet-favorites of loudmouthed preachers. In any case, I probably glamorize the poor in my wealthy western leftism, so feel free to disregard what I say.

  3. A couple of thoughts…

    (a) If a person is converted, or comes to “repentance” under the terms of these “truisms”… ie: a late fifties Billy Graham crusade, as so many westeners have innocently done, does that nullify their faith? Their repentance?

    (b) What do you think led to these “truism’s” having come to be such prevalent and accepted forms of belief?

    (c) How do you see the first “truism” in relation to universalism?

  4. (b) What do you think led to these “truism’s” having come to be such prevalent and accepted forms of belief?

    I’d say that’s because these truisms require nothing much from the believer. You can’t earn your way with works righteousness, but you also shouldn’t remain untransformed by the gospel.

  5. Dan, I wonder if the reason that these truisms require nothing has to do with the fact that the claims are more or less ‘infinite’. I think there is a whole class of teaching out there that has to do with placing infinite demands on followers and in return they sit around and do nothing but regurgitate infinite claims.

  6. That’s just words. If someone privileged tells me “God loves everybody equally”, I hear: “No way I’m enaging with that stuff any further”.

    The really interesting thing would be to find out why that is. Often, people will have a real reson for these defensive little comments.

    I actually like the placating defensive comments. I think they open a window of vulnerability, which I have learned not to abuse.

    In the right setting, they are often the beginning of a long conversation, which develops over weeks, months or years.

    They are a form of engaging with you and your message. Clumsy, placating and defensive, but they are a form of engagement nevertheless.

    You never know what happens when the same people are awake at night two weeks down the road. The kingdom starts as a very little thing and it takes yonks to bear fruit.

  7. Who said all sins are equal??? That must be some very local tradition. See for example the distinction between deadly sins and other sins in the catholic tradition, the idea of sinning against the Holy Spirit etc.

    The notion that God loves all equally might be a weird way of putting it, but is essentially an important notion about God’s love.

  8. It is difficult to say how God loves, how He rates sin, and more especially, exactly what God hates where it comes to the habits of our neighbours. Afterall, we are not asked to judge God’s judgments nor the actions of one another, but to make sure our own actions are resonant with the Spirit. “I do not even judge myself”.

    What does it mean to love equally? To hand out to each person an equal portion of wealth, self-esteem, and eternal security?

    As for sin being equal in God’s eyes, maybe that just means that God doesn’t rate sins the way we might. For us, perhaps, on a scale of 1 to 10, downloading pirated music is a 1 and murder a 10. Acts in themselves seem less capable of being sin than the combination of sinner + act + context. So maybe that is why we say “all sins are equal”, because we have a sense of different acts having different weights, but then we know that God’s mercy and justice escapes our understanding.

  9. One line of reasoning that I have heard for the second one is to compress all sin into “separating us from God.” Running a red light and committing genocide are the same in the eyes of God because they separate us from Him. Not my choice of words, this is just what I was taught in a Baptist church when I was younger.

  10. Colin says:Running a red light and committing genocide are the same in the eyes of God because they separate us from Him. Not my choice of words, this is just what I was taught in a Baptist church when I was younger.

    So many westerners were taught this. Where does this idea originate and is it biblical? Any scholars out there with an answer?

  11. urbanmonk,

    (Dan, sorry for such a long comment, but once I built the momentum I couldn’t quit).

    A quick google search turned up something interesting that deals with Augustine’s view of sin compared to what the author dubs the “Baptist” conception of sin.

    After searching for “puritan all sin equal” I found an article in Christianity Today that tries to deal with this question: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/january/19.65.html

    This pointed me to the Westminster Larger Catechism, answers 151 and 152 (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/anonymous/westminster2.i.vii.html), one of which details in things that increase the gravity of sin while the next informs that all sins are deserving of the same judgment from God. Still, that’s not quite it.

    Next on my list was farther back: “lutheran all sin equal”. I think this gets me closer, as in I found a doctrinal statement from the LCMS, a confessional Lutheran denomination: http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=2977

    Next I googled a quote from the LCMS statement, “Small sins become great when they are regarded as small.” This led me to a book by C. F. Walther (1811-1887), The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, and p. 332 to see the quote in context:

    “Finally, Christian experience also proves that in its nature no sin is venial. Any true Christian will tell you this to be his experience, that, as soon as he had sinned, he felt an unrest, which continued until he had asked God for forgiveness. In every true Christian the conscience promptly rings an alarm. A Christian merchant becomes restless over five cents in his receipts that do not belong to him. A Christian is reproved by his conscience for wrongdoing when he has treated a brother discourteously or in loveless fashion. For the slightest offense which he has given by his sinful conduct he apologizes, and he has no rest until he has done so. Is not that remarkable? It shows that venial sins, too, are something evil, a fire that may be kindled for our perdition. Small sins become great when they are regarded as small.”

    That sounds like the doctrine stated albeit with a bit of lingering “venial” terminology, but I’m not totally convinced yet. In fact, I am almost totally unconvinced, because right above this, he says very clearly:

    “We have already seen that a distinction must be made between mortal and venial sins. A person failing to make this distinction does not rightly divide Law and Gospel. But the distinction between these two kinds of sin must be made with great care. It must be clearly shown that the distinction is made for the purpose of proving that certain sins expel the Holy Ghost from the believer.”

    (http://lutherantheology.com/uploads/works/walther/LG/lecture-31.html)

    Here is a bit of Luther from A Discussion of Confession:

    But of all mortal sins, this is the most mortal, not to believe that we are hateful in the sight of God because of damnable and mortal sin. To such madness these theologians, with this rule of theirs, strive zealously and perniciously to drag the consciences of men, by teaching that venial sins are to be distinguished from mortal sins, and that according to their own fashion.
    (http://books.google.com/books?id=jGc7LndtvhEC&lpg=PA88&ots=-eb3nRK72j&dq=venial%20sin%20luther&pg=PA89&output=text)

    And as these things seem to go, Luther started what Calvin finished. In Book II of the Institutes, Chapter 8, propositions 58 and 59 have the respective titles “Distinction of mortal and venial sins invalid!” and “Every sin is a deadly sin!”. Here are links to a copy for reading (http://books.google.com/books?id=eABeezea4dwC&pg=RA1-PA421&lpg=RA1-PA421&dq=calvin+venial+sin&source=bl&ots=Xje1stzX5t&sig=-E-aevb3_RPbaXjh6V1yWRIunq0&hl=en&ei=ln7tSfHED6fcswOnvMHlAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#PRA1-PA421,M1) and public domain at (http://www.reformed.org/books/institutes/books/book2/bk2ch08.html#fiftyeig.htm).

    My first guess was to go for Calvin, but since I am a bit biased I decided to take a bit of a roundabout course to get there.

  12. On the first “truism,” I recommend the little book “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” by D.A. Carson. That provides a thoughtful and insightful explanation of the (difficult/complicated) teaching of the bible on God’s love. His view (though I’m oversimplifying) is that there is a sense in which God loves everybody equally, and a sense in which he most definately does not.

    On the second “truism,” I would suggest an answer similar to Carson’s answer to the love question. There is a sense in which all sins are equal in God’s eyes – since sin itself is rebellion against God’s rule the way it is manifested (stealing, pride, lying, sexual immorality, idleness, selfishness, etc.) is not as crucial as the fact of the rebellious attitude which gives rise to the individual “sin”. However, I do accept that there is also a sense in which certain acts outrage God more than others.

  13. God’s laws show that there are punishments for the severity of the crime to the one who broke the law. Some laws demanded double pay back in compensation while some demanded death. Yet, in all the cases, God’s purpose is to restore the law breaker…which would mean, in my opinion, He loves us all equally.

  14. regarding the first truism you mention in this post- i did this satirical piece a few years ago:
    http://www.elnellis.com/index.php?showimage=51

  15. what does the book (the bible) have to say on these things? I would ask how have these truisms been based on? also in response to them have we formulated our responses on the bible or some other line of logic? if so what and why?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: