Saturday, August 25, 2007

To miss the mark.

The word sin, in Hebrew and Greek, is based on a hunting metaphor. Hebrew is "chatah" and Greek is "hamartia" which basically meant that the hunter missed hitting what s/he was aiming at, and thus the weapon "fell short." But this would mean that the hunter was aiming at a specific target.

A lot of Christians seem to teach that humanity is willfully disobedient to God, that in its natural state it prefers evil over good, does not seek good of its own accord and so forth. That's sin. But if sin means "to miss the mark" and pulls from a metaphor that says one misses one's aim ... doesn't that mean that humanity is aiming for the mark of goodness, but just falls short? That when humanity sins, it's not "willful" and it doesn't prefer evil and wouldn't want good without outside intervention After all, what competent hunter wants to miss his/her target? If my target is a raise at work, then I'm not going to willfully try to miss that target, nor will my natural state mean that my true desires are to receive no raise whatsoever. Rather, if I miss my target, it would be due to something that I didn't purposely do.

Yet this isn't how sin seems to get taught, but rather that humanity delights in disregarding good and justice and so on.

24 comments:

joeyanne said...

If, however, a criminal's target is to make parole, he may miss the mark because He chooses behaviour (such as fighting with the other inmates, or being uncooperative with the authorities)that will cause parole not to be granted. Oh, he still wants parole, he just cannot control his temper or actions enough to hit that target. But, hey, that was his goal, so he must be a good guy after all, regardless of how he acts, right? I mean he had noble intentions. Just because he fell short, should we decline parole?
I don't think humanity necessarily delights in disregarding good - we just choose self over good. It's like the smoker who is trying to quit. They want to quit smoking, they realize the financial and health benefits, but often submit to the cravings. Is it their fault? Who could judge such a thing? But it is ultimately their choice. No one stuffed the cigarette into their mouth.

Heather said...

Joeyanne,

**I don't think humanity necessarily delights in disregarding good - we just choose self over good.**

Unfortunatly, I don't think this is how evangelical Christianity presents itself -- in your thoughts that humanity delights in disregarding good. Much of what I see is that humans yearn for the evil/bad stuff, and do not want good except due to outside interference. Calvinism especially seems to go this route, and other branches seem to follow Calvinsim except for the free will aspect.

And if we're going by what the word "sin" derives from, then I disagree that humans don't want good except for outside interference. If the mark is "goodness," then in order to miss that mark, humanity must've been aiming for that mark. Which means that humans aren't not-good.

**They want to quit smoking, they realize the financial and health benefits, but often submit to the cravings. Is it their fault? Who could judge such a thing? But it is ultimately their choice. No one stuffed the cigarette into their mouth. **

But this isn't like choosing between reading a book or watching a television show. There are factors outside of their control working against them, such as the addictive properties. At that point, in a way, something is stuffing a cigarette in their mouth.

Hearty Heretic said...

I like your line of reasoning, Heather. Also, if a hunter never hit the mark, there'd be no metaphor. Humanity does hit the target of goodness from time to time, collectively and individually. It's just hard, that's all. Which is perhaps what God offers us...a little help in hitting the mark.

MOI said...

Heather,
As usual, you bring up an excellent point. We are often told in sermons that, that is indeed what the definition of sin is. I agree. Missing the mark carries the connotation of aiming toward the good. Hearty Heretic is also right in suggesting that it's hard to hit the target 100% of the time.

Evangelical Christianity would have us believe that God only focuses on the missed part, and punishes us when we miss it, not on hitting the target and praising us. Is it any wonder that people just quit aiming altogether? Why keep trying and missing and getting chastised by God when it's easier and less painful to just stop trying?

SocietyVs said...

"Yet this isn't how sin seems to get taught, but rather that humanity delights in disregarding good and justice and so on." (Heather)

Agreed - at least this was how I learned it my faith walk - I have since 'grown up' and I know the milk was good as a child of the faith - but we have to move to a more deeper understadning of the faith as grown-ups (sorry for the biblical analogy from Paul).

I think you are raising a great issue & point about what 'sin' means (definition) - since this is beyond vague in churches. I had come to the conclusion prior to this that 'sin' was located in our relationships - our flaws in 'loving our neighbor' and making things right that 'are not at this point' (maybe with a parent, a brother, a friend).

That being said, I think the definition you provide is better and more honest to what was written. The idea we are 'falling short' but still in the act of trying - and I am guessing this is where Jesus' teachings guide our 'bows'? I alao think trying to hit the mark is better than not trying at all - it does show effort and I think this is true of the human effort (was for me anyways). I learned something today - thanks Heather!

Heather said...

HH,

Thanks for stopping by. I think another important part in not always hitting the mark is that it offers hope, and hope can be such a driving force.

MOI,

**Is it any wonder that people just quit aiming altogether? Why keep trying and missing and getting chastised by God when it's easier and less painful to just stop trying? **

And why keep trying when you're told you don't measure up anyway, you're not good enough for God and can't live up to any of those expectations? We wouldn't set our children up like this, because it would break them. Why, then, does evangelical Christianity act as though God does that to His/Her children?

Society,

**(sorry for the biblical analogy from Paul). **
Quite all right. Paul has some good analogies and comparisons.

**I had come to the conclusion prior to this that 'sin' was located in our relationships**
Another thing I wonder is if the churches set themselves up for failure, by focusing on it so much. Yes, flaws should always be improved and worked on. But I think the good things should be highlighted as well.

**The idea we are 'falling short' but still in the act of trying - and I am guessing this is where Jesus' teachings guide our 'bows'?**
I also like what this does to the infamous Romans 3:23. "All have sinned and fallen short ..." It no longer carries a condemning mark, but rather it's Paul saying that everyone has been there, will be there, and we're all in this together. No one is above anyone else in this regard, so don't start comparing yourself to anyone else.

DagoodS said...

heather,

I liked this blog entry. Very insightful.

Heather said...

DagoodS,

** Very insightful**

From you, that's high praise. Thank you. :)

laura said...

Interesting post. I've heard it sin defined as the term for "missing the mark" in archery. Archery was likely the primary hunting device back then. Very cool!

I'm glad to have discovered your blog. Lots of food for thought here!

Heather said...

Thanks for stopping by, Laura. :)

Jon F said...

What an intriguing observation! I am amazed no-one has ever pointed this out before in all the years I have sat in churches! It seems obvious that most of the time (his default setting if you like) is that a marksman WILL hit the mark, but miss every now and then. Cool. I have wrestled a LOT with the whole original sin teaching of the christian religion, and it was one of the main reasons I gave it up. So much effort wretsling against this imaginary bad person inside of me! Years wasted! Now I am standing on the solid ground that me, you, and everyone on the planet is made in the image of God. Good enough for me!
Jon

Heather said...

Hi, Jon.

I've always had difficulties with the Original Sin due to St. Augustine himself. He seemed to have quite a few issues left from his pre-Christian days, that were used to interpret the Bible itself. Now, this does mean I'm evaluating the claims based on the person himself, yes. I just have to wonder if he were happier before becoming a Christian, would he still have reached the original sin conclusion? Others didn't. However, I also have difficulty with the concept due to statements in the Bible itself, and the fact that the teaching was not found in Judaism, and they had a good 2/3rds of the Bible for quite some time.

That, and you think the idea would've come from Jesus himself somewhere in the four gospels.

**Now I am standing on the solid ground that me, you, and everyone on the planet is made in the image of God.**

Amen to that. :)

Anonymous said...

the teaching was not found in Judaism

"The soul that You, my God, have given me is pure. You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me; You keep body and soul together." is part of our prayers every morning.

I like the picture that we are good people who occasionally choose to do bad, rather than bad people who seldom, if ever, do good. As was already stated, if someone is bad and can never change that, what's the point in trying?

Yael

JayBird's Joint said...

Very Good, however I believe the overall concept of "sin" is being missed.
The word Hamartia looked at even more indepth means: to err, be mistaken, to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong.

Chat'a is the word for sin in the Hebrew, this word describes sin as: miss the goal or path of right and duty, to incur guilt, incur penalty by sin, forfeit.

If we describe what the "Mark" really is or "should" be than it is easy to understand how this mark cannot be hit. The mark is not what we think good is...the mark is describe as grace, which we achive through faith. (Romans 3:23)states that we have all failed to hit the true "Mark", because we aim at what we want the "Mark" to be. Simply trying to be good just doesn't cut it...

Heather said...

Yael,

I like that picture, too. I had a writer describe humanity as "immature," rather than blanketed with sin, and I agree with that. Most of us are capable of great good and great evil, and we drift towards one area or the other. As we gain maturity, we'll be heading towards the right side.

Jaybird,

The problem is that the metaphor only works if people are aiming for the correct "mark." Otherwise, it falls apart, because the concept behind a hunter is that the hunter is hunting what s/he wants to hunt -- ergo, the mark isn't what we "want" it to be, it's the mark that simply is, across the board, held by both the divine power and us. We have to have some say in what the mark is, and we would, since we're made in the image and likeness of God. People have to hit that mark at one point, just as a hunter hits his/her mark at times. We simply don't consistently hit it.

The Romans quote doesn't say that we're aiming at what we want the mark to be -- it just says that everyone has "fallen short" or "missed the mark."

For the Greek word of "sin," every description there falls in line with "missing the mark." And from how often I see the Hebrew words get used in terms of wrong-doing, the chatah one focuses on missing the mark the most. The 'avah' means to act wrongly, which also falls into "missing the mark." And "pasha" means to rebel, or commit a transgression, which is also "missing the mark."

My primary purpose behind this post was to dispute the notion that people are incapable of good, period. If that were true, I don't think sin would've pulled from a hunting metaphor. We *can* do good, and we can act as we were meant to. There are just times when we don't.

Anonymous said...

We *can* do good, and we can act as we were meant to. There are just times when we don't.

God told Cain, "Why are you distressed, and why is your face fallen? Surely, if you do right, there is uplift. But, if you do not do right sin couches at the door; its urge is towards you, yet you can be its master." Etz Hayim Chumash

This verse doesn't even call 'not doing right' sin. It says if Cain doesn't do right sin is waiting there desiring him, but it doesn't say Cain sinned, nor does it say Cain's desire is towards sin. Even if he doesn't do right, he can still be the master of sin, but it seems this is easier to do if he just does right to begin with.

Quite an interesting verse, IMO anyway. Great topic for discussion. Not something I think about all that much, I will admit.

Yael

SocietyVs said...

JayBird - heck that is my name - lol!

JayBird's Joint said...

"The problem is that the metaphor only works if people are aiming for the correct "mark." "

Right, but what is the "mark"? Is being "good" the mark? Do we decide what "good" is? Should we compare what good is in man's standards or should we compare what good is to God's standards. God's standard is the "Mark". Man's standards are not Good enough. Luke 18:19 "And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me Good? none is good, except one, that is, God."

I understand the man can do good things, but when it comes to pleasing God this is impossible except through Jesus. Romans 3:10-12 "as it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God....There is none that doeth good, no not one."

"The Romans quote doesn't say that we're aiming at what we want the mark to be -- it just says that everyone has "fallen short" or "missed the mark." "

But Romans does say what the mark is: "...come short of the Glory of God." that is the Mark. Us accepting God's grace is the good He is looking for.

Heather said...

Yael,

Your analysis of that verse matches what I've read, in terms of each person having a good 'yetser' and an evil 'yetser'.

Jaybird,

**but when it comes to pleasing God this is impossible except through Jesus. **

This, I would disagree with. There are verses that describe man as fearfully and wonderfully Zacharais and Elizabeth. The synoptic Gospels also show that works play a huge role, as well -- the sheep/goats example, Jesus saying that those who are not against them are for them. Even Chapter two in Romans alludes to people being judged on their works. Does this mean that one earns salvation? No. But there are thousands of ways to repent, and if one does live a life of doing good and thus rejecting sin, one is demonstrating that one desires justice and love and light.

As it is, that Romans passage pulls from two Psalms -- 14 and 53. I doubt the writer of the Psalms put himself in the no one does good category, and both Psalms deal with awaiting God restoring the fortunes of his people.

**Right, but what is the "mark"? Is being "good" the mark? Do we decide what "good" is?**

I covered this in an earlier comment -- the mark is the correct one, across the board, held by both God and man (man, because of what would be inherently part of man as placed there by God). As God's creation, we would also hold to that mark: goodness, justice, and so forth. For the metaphor to work, the mark people initally aim for has to be what God sets; otherwise, they aren't "hunting" for it, and thus falling short of that mark. Man would be part of God's glory, and thus man acting as he was originally designed to do would fufill that glory.

Mystical Seeker said...

but when it comes to pleasing God this is impossible except through Jesus.

If that were true, what a horrible God it would be. I for one would have no use for such a God, to whom I could never live up to his or her standards, that no matter what we did we weren't good enough and therefore displeasing. Who would want a parent like that? I sure wouldn't. "Our Father Which Art in Heaven?" This idea that we can never be pleasing to God sounds more like Daddy Dearest than the kind of God I would want to worship.

JayBird's Joint said...

"This, I would disagree with. There are verses that describe man as fearfully and wonderfully Zacharais and Elizabeth."

Zacharais was a Priest, who believed and worshipped God, and was blessed for it.
The passage you speak of in Romans chapter 2, is written by Paul to the Christians in Rome, these people are already saved by Grace through Faith in Jesus (Romans 1:8-10), not works. Paul in theses passages is teaching these people in Rome how to live effectivly as Christians by Showing their works as a Christian. Works that Christians Do to be effective, not to acheive Salvation, (eternal favor in God's sight), through Good works.

"the mark is the correct one, across the board"
This mark cannot be "Working your way to heaven" This is not what the Biblical Scriptures teach. Sin then, as "missing the mark", means missing eternal favor in God's sight by rejecting Christ as the only way to heaven. Those who don't do this miss this mark.

Heather said...

Jaybird,

** Paul in theses passages is teaching these people in Rome how to live effectivly as Christians by Showing their works as a Christian.**

We'll have to disagree on this one: the Romans chapter 2 statement comes across as a blanket statement (to me), and not just focused on a certain group. God doesn't play favorites, every evil-doer, and every well-doer, will receive according to intentions. The whole point of that chapter is to be careful in how one judges, including the non-Christians.

**This mark cannot be "Working your way to heaven" **

I never said it was. But that definition of sin doesn't work, considering that 2/3rds of the Bible don't teach that rejecting Jesus means eternal damnation. But the mark has to be something that man is aiming towards as well, or the whole metaphor falls apart. And that is my point -- if man does in fact miss this mark, then man does not naturally gravitate towards evil. If man naturally gravitated towards that, and doing good works was something outside of the norm, then man does not "miss the mark," because man wasn't heading for the mark in the first place. The mark has nothing to do with heaven -- it has to do with doing the right thing, being just, and thus acting as God created man to act. Again: the mark is behaving as one was originally created to behave. Going against this behavior is "missing the mark."

JayBird's Joint said...

"We'll have to disagree on this one: the Romans chapter 2 statement comes across as a blanket statement (to me)"

I understand, and of course you are entitled to your own opinion, but remember, the Bible isn't up for a vote, its not relative to the observer.


"God doesn't play favorites, every evil-doer, and every well-doer, will receive according to intentions."

Not their intentions, but according to the works they have Done. (Rev. 20:12). God doesn't "Play Favorites" He offers the same opportunity to everyone. But He must judge those who reject His offer.

"considering that 2/3rds of the Bible don't teach that rejecting Jesus means eternal damnation."

Numerous times the Bible teaches this...isn't 1/3rd enough? If God says it once, isn't that enough?(Titus 3:5-7) Jesus even claims this Himself (John 14:6)"no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me."

"But the mark has to be something that man is aiming towards as well, or the whole metaphor falls apart."

I hope you don't base all of this on a metaphor. There is more to the definition of Hamartia than "missing the Mark". Good Biblical interpretation requires more from us than this.

Heather said...

Jaybird,

**but remember, the Bible isn't up for a vote, its not relative to the observer.**

I think the history of Christianity would disagree with you on that one -- just look at how all the atonement theories changed, and why they changed. Look at the fact that the Catholic Bible and the Protestant Bible have different books in each. Or the things that were added to the Bible down the line, such as the ending in Mark, or the adulterous woman in the gospel of John. Or the ways in which one interpretation varies from the next. The Nicene Creed alone was decided based on a vote, and had it gone another way, the Bible would be read differently. Or the fact that early Christians believed the second coming would occur in their lifetime, and this is heavily reflected in many of Paul's letters.

**Numerous times the Bible teaches this...isn't 1/3rd enough? If God says it once, isn't that enough?(**

No, because it's allowing the minority to interpret the majority, rather than letting everything in the Bible speak for itself. It's reading the NT back into the Tanakh, and it really should be the other way around.

**There is more to the definition of Hamartia than "missing the Mark". Good Biblical interpretation requires more from us than this. **

Everything that is used to describe sin and the effects of sin essentially boils down to missing the mark -- they pulled from this metaphor for a reason. And again, my point in this post was to question the notion that man is incapable of any good behavior without the intervention of God, based on the metaphor that the word "sin" pulls from.